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Matthew 21:45-46 meaning

The Sadducees and Pharisees have understood that Jesus was speaking against them. They desire to arrest Him for what He said. But they do not do so at this time, because they are afraid of how the many people who believe Jesus is a prophet will respond if they tried to seize Him.

The parallel gospel accounts of Matthew 21:45-46 are found in Mark 12:12, Luke 20:19-20.

Matthew wrote When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them (v 45). The parables that He was speaking of were the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-30) and the parable of the vine-growers (Matthew 21:33-41). Both parables were unflattering portraits of the chief priests and Pharisees (v 45).

In addition to these parables, Jesus also explained their meaning to the priests and the people as He taught in the temple. This too was critical and exposing.

Jesus said the chief priests and Pharisees were like a hypocritical son who promised one thing to his father but did the opposite (Matthew 21:30). They were like hired vine-growers who killed the son of the vineyard-owner in order to steal his inheritance (Matthew 21:39-39). They were the builders who rejected the chief cornerstone of God's kingdom (Matthew 21:42). They were the ones this same stone falls on and will scatter like dust (Matthew 21:41).

They understood that Jesus said all these things about them (v 45).

They also understood that Jesus said how the despised sinners, such as tax collectors and prostitutes would enter God's kingdom before they would (Matthew 21:31). They understood how Jesus said that God would give their place of honor in the kingdom to these sinners (Matthew 21:44).

These things that Jesus said about them angered them. They wanted to arrest Jesus for saying these things about them in the temple. But when the chief priests and the Pharisees sought to seize Him they did not do so (v 46).

The reason they did not arrest Jesus was because they feared the people who considered Him to be a prophet (v 46). The people were amazed at Jesus and openly proclaimed Him as the Messiah (Mark 11:18, Matthew 21:15). If they arrested Jesus now, it would likely cause a riot in the temple. The people would take His side and be against them. The riot might even spill out into the city and cause the Roman officers to intervene. This would be a disaster for the chief priests and Pharisees (v 45). And so, they did not seize Him at this time.

Instead "they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor" (Luke 20:20). By the phrase "deliver Him to the rule and authority of the governor" Luke means that they intended to have him executed by crucifixion. The Jews had been delegated authority to judge most matters within Judea, but they were not allowed to issue capital punishment. Therefore, their strategy was to find or invent a premise by which they could get the Roman authorities to crucify Jesus.

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