Lesson 24: Matthew 21:17–22:14

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual, 2016


Introduction

After staying the night in the village of Bethany, Jesus returned to the temple. On His way, He cursed a fig tree. Leaders of the Jews came to Him in the temple and questioned His authority. Jesus reproved them and taught several parables that illustrate the consequences of rejecting or accepting Him and His gospel.

Suggestions for Teaching

Matthew 21:17–32

Jesus curses a fig tree and reproves the leaders of the Jews

Before class, write the following question on the board: What are some times when you discovered that something was not as good as it appeared to be?

To begin the lesson, invite one or more students to share their responses to the question on the board.

Explain that Matthew 21 presents an account of a time when Jesus Christ encountered something that was not as good as it appeared to be. Invite students to look for truths in Matthew 21 that can guide us not only to appear righteous to others but also to actually live righteously.

To provide context for Matthew 21, explain that after Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple, He stayed in Bethany, a small village near Jerusalem. Invite a student to read Matthew 21:18–22 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Savior did the next day as He traveled from Bethany back to the temple in Jerusalem.

  • What did the Savior do to the fig tree?

fig tree

Fig tree

© Jose Ramiro Laguna/Shutterstock.com

Display a picture of a fig tree with leaves. Explain that leaves on a fig tree normally indicate that the tree has fruit. In the spring (when the Savior encountered the fig tree that was barren of fruit), fig trees generally produce early figs. If they do not, it means they will not produce any fruit during that year. The tree described in this account had the appearance of being a fruit-producing tree, but it had not produced any fruit. One reason the Savior may have cursed the fig tree was to teach His disciples about the corrupt religious leaders of the Jews.

  • Based on what you have learned about the Jewish religious leaders in the Savior’s day, how were many of them like the fig tree described in this account? (They gave the appearance of following God but failed to produce actual fruits, or works, of righteousness.)

Summarize Matthew 21:23–27 by explaining that some of these Jewish leaders approached the Savior in the temple and questioned the authority by which He had made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. The Savior responded by asking them whether the baptism (or ministry) of John the Baptist had been commissioned by God or by man. These leaders would not answer the Savior’s question for fear of condemning themselves or offending people who accepted John as a prophet. The Savior said He would not answer their questions either and then related three parables that illustrate the actions of the corrupt Jewish leaders. The first parable describes the different ways in which two sons responded to their father.

Invite a student to read Matthew 21:28–30 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for which of the sons was more like the Jewish leaders.

  • Which of the sons was more like the Jewish leaders? In what way?

Invite a student to read Matthew 21:31–32 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Savior taught the corrupt Jewish leaders through this parable. (You may need to explain that publicans were tax collectors and that harlots were prostitutes. Jewish leaders looked down on both of these groups of people, considering them to be sinners.)

  • How were the publicans and harlots like the first son?

  • What truth can we learn from the Savior’s teachings about who will enter the kingdom of God? (Students may use different words but should identify a truth similar to the following: To enter the kingdom of God, we must obey our Heavenly Father and repent of our sins rather than only saying or pretending that we obey Him.)

To help students understand the relevance of this truth, invite a student to read aloud the following scenario:

A young man often tells his parents that he is attending Church activities when he actually goes to a friend’s house instead. When he is around Church leaders and instructors, he talks and acts as though he keeps Heavenly Father’s commandments, but outside of those settings he knowingly breaks many of the commandments.

  • How could this young man’s choices prevent him from entering the kingdom of God?

  • If you were this young man’s friend, what might you say to him to help him change his behavior?

Invite another student to read aloud the following scenario:

A young woman gossips with her friends about several girls in her school but pretends to be friendly to these girls when they are around. She regularly attends church and partakes of the sacrament, but during the meetings she often sends her friends text messages containing criticisms of those around her.

  • In what ways might this young woman merely be pretending to keep Heavenly Father’s commandments?

  • In addition to the examples in these scenarios, what are other ways we might be tempted to pretend to obey Heavenly Father rather than actually obeying Him?

Invite students as they continue to study Matthew 21 to look for what they can do to avoid being like the fig tree that produced no fruit.

Matthew 21:33–22:14

Jesus teaches the parables of the wicked husbandmen and the marriage of the king’s son

handout iconDivide students into pairs. If possible, provide each pair with a copy of the following chart. Invite students to read Matthew 21:33–41 aloud together with their partners and complete the chart by writing what they think the final three symbols represent.

The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen

Matthew 21:33–41

Symbol

Meaning

Householder

Heavenly Father

Husbandmen

 

Servants

 

The householder’s son

 

© 2015 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

After students have completed this activity, invite several pairs to report what they wrote. As needed, clarify that the husbandmen represent the corrupt Israelite leaders, the servants represent God’s prophets, and the householder’s son represents Jesus Christ.

  • What was Jesus illustrating through this parable? (Over the centuries some of the leaders of Israel had rejected Old Testament prophets, and the present Jewish leaders intended to kill Jesus [see New Testament Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2014), 65]).

Invite a student to read Matthew 21:43 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for who would be given the kingdom of God (meaning the Church of Jesus Christ and the blessings of the gospel) after the Jewish leaders had rejected it.

  • To whom would the kingdom of God be given?

Explain that Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 21:53, identifies the Gentiles as the nation to whom the kingdom of God would be given. You may want to explain that the word Gentile can refer to “people of non-Israelite … [or] non-Jewish lineage” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Gentiles,” scriptures.lds.org) or nations that do not have the fulness of God’s authority, ordinances, laws, and teachings. The transfer of the kingdom to the Gentiles began when the gospel was first taken to the Gentiles by the Apostles after the Savior’s Resurrection (see Acts 10–11; see also Matthew 20:16). It has continued in the last days with the Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, who lived in a Gentile nation. As members of Jesus Christ’s Church, we are among those to whom God has given His kingdom.

  • According to verse 43, what are we responsible to do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ? (Make sure students identify something similar to the following truth: As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are responsible to bring forth fruits of righteousness. Using students’ words, write this principle on the board.)

Invite students to come to the board and draw pictures of fruit on the fig tree. Ask them to label the fruit with words describing righteous things that we should do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Invite students to explain what they wrote by asking:

  • Why do you think it is important for us to bring forth that fruit?

  • How have you been blessed as you have tried to bring forth one of these fruits of righteousness?

Summarize Matthew 21:45–46 by explaining that the chief priests and Pharisees became angry when they realized that the wicked husbandmen in the parable represented them. However, they refrained from laying hands on the Savior because they feared the people’s reaction if they did so.

Explain that in Matthew 22:1–10 we read that Jesus Christ related a parable in which He compared the blessings of the gospel to a wedding feast a king gave for his son. The people who were first invited to the feast (who represent many of the Jews, including the leaders) refused to come. Those who were invited next (who represent the Gentiles) chose to come and enjoy the feast.

Invite a student to read Matthew 22:11–14 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened at the wedding feast.

  • Why was this guest cast out from the feast?

Explain that the king had fulfilled an ancient custom by giving his guests clean and appropriate clothing to wear at the wedding. However, this man had chosen not to wear the clothing the king had provided.

  • In this parable, what might the wedding garments represent? (You may want to explain that in the scriptures, clean garments and robes often symbolize the righteousness and purity of those who have become clean through the Atonement of Jesus Christ [see New Testament Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2014), 66; see also 3 Nephi 27:19].)

Point out that the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 22:14 adds that not everyone at the feast will be wearing the wedding garment (see footnote b). In other words, not everyone who acknowledges the Savior, is called, and accepts the invitation to be part of the kingdom will be prepared and worthy to dwell eternally with Him and Heavenly Father. Some will have disqualified themselves from rich blessings because they are not clothed with the garment of righteousness.

  • How does this parable further illustrate the principle written on the board?

Testify of the importance of the eternal blessings we have been invited to receive. Ask students to ponder what they are currently doing to accept Heavenly Father’s invitation to receive all of the blessings of the gospel. Encourage them to apply what they have learned by preparing themselves to receive these blessings.

Commentary and Background Information

Matthew 21:19–22. Cursing the fig tree

The Savior’s cursing of the fig tree taught several important lessons. The fig tree could serve as a representation of the corrupt religious leaders of the Jews, who made an outward show of piety but lacked true righteousness. In this vein, the event taught that all of us must strive to live our lives in a manner that is consistent with what we believe and teach. Cursing the fig tree also provided a visual illustration of the lesson the Savior taught earlier in His ministry with the parable of the fig tree (see Luke 13:6–9): all must repent or perish. After witnessing the disciples’ reaction to the cursing of the fig tree, the Savior also used this occasion to teach them about the power of faith to work even greater miracles than the one they had just witnessed.

Matthew 21:42–44. “The stone which the builders rejected”

Jesus Christ is “the stone which the builders rejected” (Matthew 21:42) and became the cornerstone of the kingdom of God on the earth (see Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:19–20). The Savior’s instruction about those who fall on the stone being broken refers to the fact that rather than building their lives on this stone (see Helaman 5:12), the Jews would stumble and fall on it (see Isaiah 8:14; 1 Corinthians 1:23). They would be broken, or destroyed, for failing to accept Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God and for failing to accept His gospel. The stone falling on others refers to the Savior destroying those who would reject Him. (See Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 21:47–56 [in the Bible appendix].)