- Main Text: Matthew 21:1-17
- Accompanying text: Psalm 118:25-29
What this passage means to us
“Jesus, as we have seen often enough, was as capable as any of his contemporaries of deliberately performing actions which had rich symbolic value. Within his own time and culture, his riding on a donkey over the Mount of Olives, across Kidron, and up the Temple mount spoke more powerfully than words could have done of a royal claim…All that we know of Jewish crowds at Passover-time in this period makes their reaction, in all the accounts, thoroughly comprehensible: they praise their god for the arrival, at last, of the true king” .
In a way the story is an enacted parable that assures us that God’s judgment is one of grace and of peace: grace in that there is nothing we can do to merit the sacrificial death of the King, and peace in that the King imparts our reconciliation to God through his love that held him to the cross. Thus, the coming of the King is not an angry act of vengeance. Matthew refers to this event as the fulfilment of a messianic prophecy from Zechariah 9:9-10, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey”. The king arrives neither on a chariot at the head of his armies, nor on a warhorse, like a medieval monarch mounted on his armoured charger, prepared for battle. And he does not bear a weapon in his hand. Instead, “He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth”. The crowds expected immediate intervention from Jesus as he approached the Temple. They wanted to be delivered from the Roman oppression, and they desired the kingdom to be ushered in. They laid their cloaks on the road for Jesus to sit on as he dismounted the donkey, which was a mark of respect (see 2 Kings 9:13). They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David”, thus recognising Jesus as King (Matthew 21:9). The exclamation ‘Hosanna’ was used chiefly at the Feast of Tabernacles, and the branches held high by the worshippers were called ‘Hosannas’. This event was an out-of-season imitation of that occasion. “Hosanna”, meaning ‘save!’, was an expression of praise for expected deliverance, Jesus did not deliver there and then, and what Jesus was doing was lost on the crowds, and also on the disciples. Luke records that Jesus wept over Jerusalem in his compassion for those who did not understand what was happening, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes….you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you’” (Luke 19:41,44). Jesus was signifying that his coming was the arrival of the Prince of Peace who would lay down his life for humanity’s salvation.
There is much for us to understand from this account. In participating in Jesus’ ministry with him we declare his good news of peace; sometimes in our own lives Jesus intervenes by bringing his peace instead of resolving the immediate problem; the expectation of deliverance does not match the believer’s experience of the faithful life; we are capable of praising Jesus on the one hand while being ready to reject him on the other: are we so busy in taking care of our own transactions, as the money changers were, that we fail to join others in welcoming Christ, the King?
In stark contrast to Jesus’ riding peaceably towards the temple is the account of his chasing out of the money changers. They and those involved in their transactions were not among those who welcomed the King by shouting out “Hosanna!”. The temple, which should have been a witness to God’s grace, was in fact a testimony to corruption, a place where male worshippers were charged a fee for entrance and where money changers also made a profit from them in other ways. Jesus’ actions against the money changers “were not as violent as they have sometimes been perceived, otherwise Jesus would have been arrested by the temple police and ousted unceremoniously from the Temple Mount” . Would, however, the temple officers have been afraid to act because of Jesus’ popularity? Both the entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the temple point to Jesus’ authority – Jesus is King, and he reigns supreme.
Context and Story-line
This week we recall how what is often called “the triumphal entry” took place one week before Jesus endured the shame of the cross. The same crowds that shouted in praise of the son of David called for him to be crucified (Matthew 27:22-23) within a week. They had just rebuked two blind men who “were sitting by the roadside”, and who, “when they heard that Jesus was going by”, shouted “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”. Jesus restored sight to the blind men (Matthew 20:30-34).
How much did the disciples follow what was happening around them? None of them understood the significance of it. “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him” (John 12:16).
“But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant” (Matthew 21:15). “Children” refers to young people, probably boys, under 14 years of age, and it appears that they repeated the chant they had overheard before. “Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him. ‘Yes’, replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?’ And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night” (Matthew 21:15-17).
“See, this is getting us nowhere”, the chief priests noted in envy of Jesus’ celebrity status, “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19)
- Zechariah 9:9-10
- Mark 11:1-11
- Luke 19:28-44
- Psalm 45
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- N T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, (UK: SPCK, 1996). 490-1.
- Shimon Gibson. The Final Days of Jesus: the Archaeological Evidence (Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson plc, 2009). 48.