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Matthew Henry's Commentary on Luke 19:47-20:8

Matthew Henry's Commentary

Luke Chapter 19

In this chapter we have, I. The conversion of Zaccheus the publican at Jericho, ver. 1-10. II. The parable of the pounds which the king entrusted with his servants, and of his rebellious citizens, ver. 11-27. III. Christ's riding in triumph (such triumph as it was) into Jerusalem; and his lamentation in prospect of the ruin of that city, ver. 28-44. IV. His teaching in the temple, and casting the buyers and sellers out of it, ver. 45-48.

The Doom of Jerusalem Lamented; The Doom of Jerusalem Foretold.

41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, 42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, 44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. 45 And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; 46 Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. 47 And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, 48 And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him.

The great Ambassador from heaven is here making his public entry into Jerusalem, not to be respected there, but to be rejected; he knew what a nest of vipers he was throwing himself into, and yet see here two instances of his love to that place and his concern for it.

I. The tears he shed for the approaching ruin of the city (v. 41): When he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it. Probably, it was when he was coming down the descent of the hill from the mount of Olives, where he had a full view of the city, the large extent of it, and the many stately structures in it, and his eye affected his heart, and his heart his eye again. See here,

1. What a tender spirit Christ was of; we never read that he laughed, but we often find him in tears. In this very place his father David wept, and those that were with him, though he and they were men of war. There are cases in which it is no disparagement to the stoutest of men to melt into tears.

2. That Jesus Christ wept in the midst of his triumphs, wept when all about him were rejoicing, to show how little he was elevated with the applause and acclamation of the people. Thus he would teach us to rejoice with trembling, and as though we rejoiced not. If Providence do not stain the beauty of our triumphs, we may ourselves see cause to sully it with our sorrows.

3. That he wept over Jerusalem. Note, There are cities to be wept over, and none to be more lamented than Jerusalem, that had been the holy city, and the joy of the whole earth, if it be degenerated. But why did Christ weep at the sight of Jerusalem? Was it because "Yonder is the city in which I must be betrayed and bound, scourged and spit upon, condemned and crucified?" No, he himself gives us the reason of his tears.

(1.) Jerusalem has not improved the day of her opportunities. He wept, and said, If thou hadst known, even thou at least in this thy day, if thou wouldst but yet know, while the gospel is preached to thee, and salvation offered thee by it; if thou wouldest at length bethink thyself, and understand the things that belong to thy peace, the making of thy peace with God, and the securing of thine own spiritual and eternal welfare—but thou dost not know the day of thy visitation, v. 44. The manner of speaking is abrupt: If thou hadst known! O that thou hadst, so some take it; like that O that my people had hearkened unto me, Ps. lxxxi. 13; Isa. xlviii. 18. Or, If thou hadst known, well; like that of the fig-tree, ch. xiii. 9. How happy had it been for thee! Or, "If thou hadst known, thou wouldest have wept for thyself, and I should have no occasion to weep for thee, but should have rejoiced rather." What he says lays all the blame of Jerusalem's impending ruin upon herself. Note, [1.] There are things which belong to our peace, which we are all concerned to know and understand; the way how peace is made, the offers made of peace, the terms on which we may have the benefit of peace. The things that belong to our peace are those things that relate to our present and future welfare; these we must know with application. [2.] There is a time of visitation when those things which belong to our peace may be known by us, and known to good purpose. When we enjoy the means of grace in great plenty, and have the word of God powerfully preached to us—when the Spirit strives with us, and our own consciences are startled and awakened—then is the time of visitation, which we are concerned to improve. [3.] With those that have long neglected the time of their visitation, if at length, if at last, in this their day, their eyes be opened, and they bethink themselves, all will be well yet. Those shall not be refused that come into the vineyard at the eleventh hour. [4.] It is the amazing folly of multitudes that enjoy the means of grace, and it will be of fatal consequence to them, that they do not improve the day of their opportunities. The things of their peace are revealed to them, but are not minded or regarded by them; they hide their eyes from them, as if they were not worth taking notice of. They are not aware of the accepted time and the day of salvation, and to let it slip and perish through mere carelessness. None are so blind as those that will not see; nor have any the things of their peace more certainly hidden from their eyes than those that turn their back upon them. [5.] The sin and folly of those that persist in a contempt of gospel grace are a great grief to the Lord Jesus, and should be so to us. He looks with weeping eyes upon lost souls, that continue impenitent, and run headlong upon their own ruin; he had rather that they would turn and live than go on and die, for he is not willing that any should perish.

(2.) Jerusalem cannot escape the day of her desolation. The things of her peace are now in a manner hidden from her eyes; they will be shortly. Not but that after this the gospel was preached to them by the apostles; all the house of Israel were called to know assuredly that Christ was their peace (Acts ii. 36), and multitudes were convinced and converted. But as to the body of the nation, and the leading part of it, they were sealed up under unbelief; God had given them the spirit of slumber, Rom. xi. 8. They were so prejudiced and enraged against the gospel, and those few that did embrace it then, that nothing less than a miracle of divine grace (like that which converted Paul) would work upon them; and it could not be expected that such a miracle should be wrought, and so they were justly given up to judicial blindness and hardness. The peaceful things are not hidden from the eyes of particular persons; but it is too late to think now of the nation of the Jews, as such, becoming a Christian nation, by embracing Christ. And therefore they are marked for ruin, which Christ here foresees and foretels, as the certain consequence of their rejecting Christ. Note, Neglecting the great salvation of ten brings temporal judgments upon a people; it did so upon Jerusalem in less than forty years after this, when all that Christ here foretold was exactly fulfilled. [1.] The Romans besieged the city, cast a trench about it, compassed it round, and kept their inhabitants in on every side. Josephus relates that Titus ran up a wall in a very short time, which surrounded the city, and cut off all hopes of escaping. [2.] They laid it even with the ground. Titus commanded his soldiers to dig up the city, and the whole compass of it was levelled, except three towers; see Josephus's history of the wars of the Jews, 5. 356-360; 7. 1. Not only the city, but the citizens were laid even with the ground (thy children within thee), by the cruel slaughters that were made of them: and there was scarcely one stone left upon another. This was for their crucifying Christ; this was because they knew not the day of their visitation. Let other cities and nations take warning.

II. The zeal he showed for the present purification of the temple. Though it must be destroyed ere long, it does not therefore follow that no care must be taken of it in the mean time.

1. Christ cleared it of those who profaned it. He went straight to the temple, and began to cast out the buyers and sellers, v. 45. Hereby (though he was represented as an enemy to the temple, and that was the crime laid to his charge before the high priest) he made it to appear that he had a truer love for the temple than they had who had such a veneration for its corban, its treasury, as a sacred thing; for its purity was more its glory than its wealth was. Christ gave reason for his dislodging the temple-merchants, v. 46. The temple is a house of prayer, set apart for communion with God: the buyers and sellers made it a den of thieves by the fraudulent bargains they made there, which was by no means to be suffered, for it would be a distraction to those who came there to pray.

2. He put it to the best use that ever it was put to, for he taught daily in the temple, v. 47. Note, It is not enough that the corruptions of a church be purged out, but the preaching of the gospel must be encouraged. Now, when Christ preached in the temple, observe here, (1.) How spiteful the church-rulers were against him; how industrious to seek an opportunity, or pretence rather, to do him a mischief (v. 47): The chief priests and scribes, and the chief of the people, the great sanhedrim, that should have attended him, and summoned the people too to attend him, sought to destroy him, and put him to death. (2.) How respectful the common people were to him. They were very attentive to hear him. He spent most of his time in the country, and did not then preach in the temple, but, when he did, the people paid him great respect, attended on his preaching with diligence, and let no opportunity slip of hearing him, attended to it with care, and would not lose a word. Some read it, All the people as they heard him, took his part; and so it comes in very properly as a reason why his enemies could not find what they might do against him; they saw the people ready to fly in their faces if they offered him any violence. Till his hour was come his interest in the common people protected him; but, when his hour was come, the chief priests' influence upon the common people delivered him up.

Luke Chapter 20

In this chapter we have, I. Christ's answer to the chief priests' question concerning his authority, ver. 1-8. II. The parable of the vineyard let out to the unjust and rebellious husbandmen, ver. 9-19. III. Christ's answer to the question proposed to him concerning the lawfulness of paying tribute to Cæsar, ver. 20-26. IV. His vindication of that great fundamental doctrine of the Jewish and Christian institutes—the resurrection of the dead and the future state, from the foolish cavils of the Sadducees, ver. 27-38. V. His puzzling the scribes with a question concerning the Messiah's being the Son of David, ver. 39-44. VI. The caution he gave his disciples to take heed of the scribes, ver. 45-47. All which passages we had before in Matthew and Mark, and therefore need not enlarge upon them here, unless on those particulars which we had not there.

Christ's Enemies Nonplussed.

1 And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders, 2 And spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority? 3 And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me: 4 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? 5 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not? 6 But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. 7 And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. 8 And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.

In this passage of story nothing is added here to what we had in the other evangelists; but only in the first verse, where we are told,

I. That he was now teaching the people in the temple, and preaching the gospel. Note, Christ was a preacher of his own gospel. He not only purchased the salvation for us, but published it to us, which is a great confirmation of the truth of the gospel, and gives abundant encouragement to us to receive it, for it is a sign that the heart of Christ was much upon it, to have it received. This likewise puts an honour upon the preachers of the gospel, and upon their office and work, how much soever they are despised by a vain world. It puts an honour upon the popular preachers of the gospel; Christ condescended to the capacities of the people in preaching the gospel, and taught them. And observe, when he was preaching the gospel to the people he had this interruption given him. Note, Satan and his agents do all they can to hinder the preaching of the gospel to the people, for nothing weakens the interest of Satan's kingdom more.

II. That his enemies are here said to come upon him—epestesan. The word is used only here, and it intimates,

1. That they thought to surprise him with this question; they came upon him suddenly, hoping to catch him unprovided with an answer, as if this were not a thing he had himself thought of.

2. That they thought to frighten him with this question. They came upon him in a body, with violence. But how could he be terrified with the wrath of men, when it was in his own power to restrain it, and make it turn to his praise? From this story itself we may learn, (1.) That it is not to be thought strange, if even that which is evident to a demonstration be disputed, and called in question, as a doubtful thing, by those that shut their eyes against the light. Christ's miracles plainly showed by what authority he did these things, and sealed his commission; and yet this is that which is here arraigned. (2.) Those that question Christ's authority, if they be but catechized themselves in the plainest and most evident principles of religion, will have their folly made manifest unto all men. Christ answered these priests and scribes with a question concerning the baptism of John, a plain question, which the meanest of the common people could answer: Was it from heaven or of men? They all knew it was from heaven; there was nothing in it that had an earthly relish or tendency, but it was all heavenly and divine. And this question gravelled them, and ran them aground, and served to shame them before the people. (3.) It is not strange if those that are governed by reputation and secular interest imprison the plainest truths, and smother and stifle the strongest convictions, as these priests and scribes did, who, to save their credit, would not own that John's baptism was from heaven, and had no other reason why they did not say it was of men but because they feared the people. What good can be expected from men of such a spirit? (4.) Those that bury the knowledge they have are justly denied further knowledge. It was just with Christ to refuse to give an account of his authority to them that knew the baptism of John to be from heaven and would not believe in him, nor own their knowledge, v. 7, 8.

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