After staying in 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.
Jesus curses a fig tree and reproves the leaders of the Jews
Sometimes foods, forms of entertainment, products, and even people’s lives are not as good as they appear to be.
In your scripture study journal, write about a time when you discovered that something was not as good as it appeared to be.
Matthew 21 contains an account of a time when Jesus encountered something that was not as good as it appeared to be. As you continue your study of this chapter, look for truths that can guide you to live more righteously.
After Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple, He stayed in Bethany, a small village near Jerusalem. Read Matthew 21:18–22, looking for what the Savior did the next day as He traveled from Bethany back to the temple in Jerusalem.
Leaves on a fig tree normally indicate that the tree has fruit. In the spring (when the Savior encountered the fig tree that had no 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 hypocrisy and the corrupt religious leaders of the Jews. Many of these leaders gave the appearance of following God, but they failed to produce actual fruits, or works, of righteousness. They were hypocrites.
“The word hypocrite is translated from a Greek word meaning ‘actor’ and refers to one who pretends, exaggerates a part, or is deceitfully inconsistent in his or her actions. The Lord denounced [those who were deceitful in] their outward observance of [keeping the commandments] while their hearts were arrogant and insincere” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 68).
In Matthew 21:23–27 we read 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 appointed 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 if they would not answer His question, and then He 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. Read Matthew 21:28–30, looking for which of the sons was more like the fig tree and the Jewish leaders.
Read Matthew 21:31–32, looking for what the Savior taught the corrupt Jewish leaders through this parable. (It may help to know that publicans were tax collectors and 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 who believed John the Baptist like the first son in the parable?
From this parable we learn that 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.
Read the following scenarios, and then answer the two questions in your scripture study journal:
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.
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.
What might you say to these young people to help them change their behavior?
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?
As you continue to study Matthew 21, look for what you can do to avoid being like the fig tree that produced no fruit.
Jesus teaches the parables of the wicked husbandmen and the marriage of the king’s son
Read Matthew 21:33–41, and complete the following chart with what you think the final three symbols represent. It may be helpful to know that husbandmen are caretakers and protectors who are responsible to see that the vineyard produces fruit. (After you are done, check your answers with those given at the end of the lesson.)
The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen
The householder’s son
In your scripture study journal, summarize what you think Jesus was illustrating through this parable.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the following about the Savior’s parable of the wicked husbandmen:
“[God’s] dealings with men from the creation of Adam down to the Second Coming of the Son of Man are summarized in the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen.
“God himself is the householder; his vineyard is the earth and its inhabitants; and the husbandmen appointed to work in the vineyard are the spiritual overseers of the people. Those who are stoned, beaten, persecuted, and killed are the prophets and seers sent to minister among men; and the Son and Heir, slain and cast out of the vineyard at the instigation of the wicked husbandmen, is of course Jesus” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:593–94).
Through this parable, Jesus Christ was illustrating that over the centuries some of the leaders of the Israelites had rejected God’s prophets and that He knew that the present Jewish leaders intended to kill Him.
Read Matthew 21:43, 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.
Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 21:53 (in the Bible appendix) identifies “the Gentiles” as the nation to whom the kingdom of God would be given. “Sometimes [the word Gentiles] designates people of non-Israelite lineage, sometimes people of non-Jewish lineage, and sometimes nations that are without the gospel, even though there may be some Israelite blood among the people” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Gentiles,” scriptures.lds.org). 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. 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 the kingdom of God has been given. Thus, according to the Savior’s teachings in Matthew 21:43, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are responsible to bring forth fruits of righteousness.
In your scripture study journal, draw a picture of a fig tree with fruit on it. Label each fruit with words describing righteous things that we should do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Think about why it is important for us to bring forth this kind of fruit. Then write about a time when you have seen a member of the Church bring forth one of these righteous fruits in a sincere way.
Matthew 21:45–46 describes how 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.
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.
Read Matthew 22:11–14, looking for what happened at the wedding feast.
Why was this guest cast out from the feast?
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 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 3 Nephi 27:19).
The Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 22:14 adds that not everyone at the feast will be wearing the wedding garment (see Matthew 22:14, footnote b). In other words, not everyone who acknowledges the Savior and accepts the invitation to be part of the kingdom will be prepared and worthy to dwell eternally with Him and Heavenly Father. This parable can relate to individuals who have not yet joined the Church—the kingdom of God on the earth—and individuals who have joined the Church but have not adequately prepared themselves for eternal life with God.
Ponder what you are currently doing to accept Heavenly Father’s invitation to receive all of the blessings of the gospel. Applying what you have learned in this lesson can help you prepare to receive all of these blessings.
Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied Matthew 21:17–22:14 and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher:
Answers to “The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen” chart: The husbandmen represent the corrupt Israelite leaders, the servants represent God’s prophets, and the householder’s son represents Jesus Christ.