The chief priests and elders of the people "feared the crowds" from the beginning (Mt 21:26) to the end (21:46) of this New Testament passage in the One Year Bible. It didn't prevent them from being able to think, some (21:41), but what they said (21:27) and did (21:46) was all within their strategy of their relationship to the crowds.
Their "fear" of the crowds was not absolute, as we sadly see later (27:20). It was more a cagey, bide-your-time-for-now fear. How does the Lord deal with this attitude here?
He recognizes the insincere question, the trap question, the agenda-based question of 21:23, and He does something unusual in this case. He takes the question out of their context, to the extent that He even offers to answer it (21:24), if they could come out from behind their agenda. Their agenda included a desire not to be caught in an error (21:25), and not to be unpopular (21:26), and they don't budge from that. However, the cost of the answer they give Jesus is that they are publicly exposed to the very unpopularity and error that they were trying to avoid, because they publicly say they are ignorant of the answer to an obvious question (21:27).
But the Lord doesn't stop there, merely confounding their attempt to trap Him, but He continues to speak to them further! Here are two parables in which He is using dialog with them right in the middle of the parable (21:31; 21:40). This is very unique. However, it is not going to turn out well for them. Jesus places them at the end of the first parable below a rung of society that is considered the lowest by the people. If there is anything worse than being behind the lowest rung of present society, it is to be behind the lowest rung in a future permanent one (21:31).
It gets worse for them, the ones who were the recognized authority in matters of religion. In the second parable, the Lord predicts that the kingdom of God, far from being only a static point at which to arrive at as the goal of this life, is completely impregnable to attack ... not only so, but it is the offensive weapon that smashes any attacker into dust (21:44).
Therefore the Lord in the space of twenty-two verses of teaching and dialog shows not only the hypocrisy and evil motives of the ruling religious establishment (21:27), and places their earthly ambitions in a very unfavorable light compared to the heavenly ambitions of the weakest and most despised sinners, but describes the doom of their opposition to God's kingdom itself, both in the impregnability of it to the attack, and in the destruction of the attacker.
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