The Triumphal Entry (Matthew 21:1-17)
Beginning with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in Matthew 21 we begin the section of the book devoted to His passion. In other words, these last eight chapters of the book are concerned with one week in the life of Christ, the week that began with the triumphal entry, which the Church commemorates with Palm Sunday, and ended with the resurrection, which the Church celebrates on Easter Sunday. All the gospels devote a good deal of their time to this week, because everything Jesus has done and has said up til now has been preparatory for this week.
As we study these chapters we shall observe that the events of this week are multifaceted. In the current lesson on the triumphal entry we shall have to consider how this event was a fulfillment of prophecy for the Messiah, how it was a declaration of Jesus’ Messiahship, how it drew the proper response of faith and adoration from the followers of Jesus, how it overlapped with the ritual of presenting the lamb for the Passover, and how it led to the cleansing of the temple prior to the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
Transition to the Triumphal Entry
His Prediction of Death and Resurrection. There are three short passages that form the transition from the last parable about the workers in the vineyard and this triumphal entry. The first is another prediction by Jesus of His imminent death (Matt. 20:17-19). This is the third time that Jesus stated He was about to suffer and die; the fact that it was the third time, and that it was so close to the event, should have removed any questions in the disciples’ minds about the upcoming trip to Jerusalem. The passage is clear: Jesus told the disciples that they were going up to Jerusalem where He would be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law, condemned by them, and turned over to the Gentiles to be mocked, flogged, and crucified. But on the third day he would be raised to life. What is new in this third prediction is the mode of His death and the participation of the Gentiles. Only the Romans could crucify--the Jewish leaders did not have the right to put people to death. So the events that would transpire would be a cooperative effort by those who sought His death.
Note the certainty in Jesus’ words. There is not a “perhaps” or a “maybe” involved. This was no guessing at what might happen in Jerusalem. Jesus is absolutely clear on what was going to transpire, down to the details. Ordinary people would have turned away if they knew this. But Jesus did not--this was why He came into the world. And He was resolute to go through with it because He knew there was to be a resurrection--the way back to glory would be a triumph over death.
The attempts by many modern scholars to discredit these predictions, calling them later additions to the text by the believing community, makes no sense because it destroys the entire flow of the narratives. All through the gospels Jesus had made it clear that He came into the world to make His life a ransom for the sins of the world. His promises of forgiveness, rest, and eternal life, all required that He resolve the problem of sin. His teachings in the Upper Room when He instituted the Supper were the culmination of this message and the connection to the fulfillment of it. And the response of the disciples is perfectly in character for them--they missed it, or did not want to hear it. For whenever Jesus spoke of His coming death, they either rebuked Him for it, or spoke about who would be the greatest in the kingdom.
It is clear that Jesus knew what He was about, and that now the time was drawing near for Him to lay down His life for the sins of the world. Yes, there would be various people who had an active part in His death; but the people responsible for the death of Jesus are all the sinners of the world--all of us. And while some are troubled by the idea of the Father sacrificing the Son (a difficulty encountered only if we think of them as separate people, and not one God), they must remember that Jesus was a willing sacrifice--He gave His life a ransom for sin. He was going up to Jerusalem to die--but He would be raised to life again.
His Instruction about Suffering and Reigning. So the second little paragraph following this is the question about suffering and service (Matt. 20:20-28). What occasioned the teaching was the request by the mother of Zebedee’s sons that her sons sit on either side of Christ in the Kingdom. Despite Jesus’ prediction of suffering and death, two disciples and their mother are still thinking of privilege and rank in the kingdom. The Gospel’s report this event a little differently, but not out of agreement. James and John are certainly involved in asking the question, but their mother is there too. This would be plausible if she was indeed Jesus’ aunt on his mother’s side (see Matt. 10:2 and 27:56). The request of these two men is in harmony with their aggressiveness already displayed (Mark 9:38). And the fact that the other disciples are annoyed with them also indicates that they were party to the request--it was not just their mother.
To sit at the right hand and the left hand of the king would be privilege and power. This would take place in the Kingdom, not the Church that was now to be founded. Mark says “in your glory,” clearly showing the request looks to the life to come. And Matthew never equates “kingdom” and “church,” so this is not about leadership in the Church, but something much greater. They obviously thought that the consummation of the ages was at hand--without the cross or any period of time after it.
So Jesus said to the two, James and John, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” Jesus was firm, but probing in His questions, because it is often ignorance that seeks power and glory so easily. To reign with Christ would mean to suffer with Christ--they have no idea what that would mean, because they have no idea of what His sufferings would be like. The Bible makes it clear that the way to glory is through suffering (2 Cor. 11:23-33; Col. 1:24; and Rev. 1:9). We cannot ask for the glory of wearing the crown and not ask for the grace to carry the cross. James and John responded in the affirmative--they could drink the cup with Him--but their quick answer shows that they did not fully comprehend what the cup meant, what the sufferings of Christ would accomplish, and how it would relate to His glory. Well, they would suffer for Him: James would be the first martyr, and John would suffer exile (Acts 12:2 and Rev. 1:9). But who would sit on His right hand and His left hand was not to be resolved at a mother’s request. Their request was out of order. And the response of the other ten men reveals a jealousy and self-interest in them as well, which has no part in greatness in the kingdom. Places of power and authority in the Kingdom are not granted as a favor (that was the way of the pagans) ; they are to be given to those for whom they had been prepared. They will be granted by the divine will and in accordance with the divine plan.
Greatness is based on service--whoever wants to be great must be a servant (not a deacon, as in the Church sense, for the word here just means servant, as the subsequent use of doulos confirms). If Jesus Himself is the Servant, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, then His disciples dare not seek a higher rank or privilege. They must be willing to serve others, and to lay down their lives if need be.
Jesus closes this discourse by announcing that the Son of Man did not come (a hint of His pre-existence in heaven before the birth in Bethlehem) to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. The last clause is a clear reference to the Song of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (see in the archives of this web site the exposition of Isaiah 53). In that prophecy the Messiah would suffer and die before being exalted in glory. Herein lies greatness--to ransom others by suffering for them. The disciples would have to come to grips with this very soon--not only in understanding why Jesus was to die, but also in understanding what they were called to do in His kingdom.
His Giving of Sight--and Salvation--to the Blind. The third little episode concerns the healing of two blind men in Jericho just before going up to Jerusalem (Matt. 20:29-34). The other gospels only mention one blind man, but Matthew is a little more detailed and clarifies there were two of them. It is unlikely that Matthew just threw in a second one for no reason; the mention of “two” shows a personal knowledge of the details of the event. It was enough for the others to report a healing in Jericho. Then again, Matthew and Mark say that Jesus was leaving Jericho, and Luke says He was entering. There are a number of possible ways to look at this difference, but none of them can be argued with great certainty. Some have argued that Jesus healed one blind man on entering the city, and two on leaving; but this is not very compelling. It is possible that Luke was arranging his material to build to the story of Zacchaeus in Jericho. But it is also possible, and a little more reasonable, to say that old Jericho and new Jericho were in mind, that is, by leaving one and entering the other (because they were next to each other) both descriptions could be accurate. We cannot be absolutely sure how these cities were occupied, and if this was what was meant. But we can say that there are possible solutions to explain what the writers had in mind.
The account in Matthew is simple and straightforward: Jesus was moved with compassion and healed the men in spite of the crowds and in spite of His pre-occupation with the suffering in Jerusalem. There was no basking in glory--He came to serve. And the men who had been blind received their sight--and the first thing they saw was the King. So they joined the throng to follow Him to Jerusalem.
But something rather symbolic was taking place here as well: the nation was in spiritual blindness concerning who Jesus was and what He was about to do; but here were two men who although blind wanted to see. The symbolism is clearly explained in John 9. There were those who could see, but were blind because they refused to believe; and there were those who were blind, but wanted to see. Therefore, on His way to Jerusalem the last miracle that Jesus did outside the temple was to give sight--and salvation--to two blind men in Jericho. This was a work that Messiah was to do, according to Isaiah (giving sight to the blind according to Isaiah). But in Jericho? Remember, Jericho was a city that lay under a curse since the days of Joshua. But Jesus can remove the curse and the effects of the curse.
The Reading of the Text
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the Highest!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My House will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den or robbers’.”
14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. 16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” 17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where He spent the night.
Observations in the Text
This passage is a short narrative report about the public presentation of Jesus as the Messiah. It falls into four little parts, each of which is tied to the fulfillment of Scripture. There is first the preparation for the ride and the reference to Zechariah made by Matthew; then there is the ride into Jerusalem and the cries of the people from Psalm 118; third is the cleansing of the temple and Jesus use of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and finally there is the report of the healings and the children, and Jesus’ use of Psalm 8. All these events, and the Scriptures that they fulfilled, declare again that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
But each section of the passage reveals a different aspect of the work of Messiah. In the first part He is revealed as the sovereign King, the one who has authority, but who comes in peace. As He entered Jerusalem, He was recognized at the coming Messiah who brings salvation. When He cleansed the temple, He demonstrated that He was the divine Lord, the messenger of the covenant, who would come to His temple. And when He was praised by the little children, He indicated that He was the fulfillment of Psalm 8, the incarnate Son of Man who should raise human life to the level God intended and should receive praise for it.
There are some who think that this triumphal entry did not take place at the Passover time, but in the fall at the Feast of Tabernacles, primarily because of the mention of the palm branches, and because the figs (in the next episode of the cursing of the fig tree) usually do not grow until the fall. But there are better explanations for these difficulties, as will be pointed out in the discussion; and making this a fall festival entry would mean that what the gospels present as the events of the last six days of Jesus’ life were actually spread over the last six months. That radical change in the chronology would require a lot more evidence than the things mentioned.
The setting of the events comes into play as well. The journey from Jericho to Jerusalem by the old Roman road is about 17 miles, and it ascends some 3000 feet. So it was normal to speak of going up to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho. The road passed through Bethany and nearby Bethpage (“house of figs”) which were on the southeast side of the Mount of Olives. The road crossed over the top of the mount and then down through the narrow Kidron Valley to ascend again to Jerusalem. These are not long distances--from the top of the Mount of Olives one can see the holy city on one side, and the Judean desert on the other. From Bethany to Jerusalem would be about a half hour walk (less if it were flat land). During these last days of Jesus’ public ministry, it is likely that He spent the nights in Bethany with His good friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus, and went back and forth to Jerusalem. But in the night in which He was betrayed He spent the night in the garden, on the other side of the Mount of Olives, because Jewish law required that the night of Passover be spent within the precincts of the holy city. The city limits had been extended to the top of the Mount of Olives, but not to the other side where Bethany lay.
The method of Bible study that must be employed here is to show how the Old Testament passages give the full and proper meaning to the events. The story without the Scripture citations would say very little; it is the prophecies that explain what all this meant. Therefore, a detailed study of the Old Testament passages is important to the reading of Matthew 21.
Analysis of the Passage
I. The Preparation for the Triumphal Entry (21:1-6).
Jesus sent two disciples (Luke 22 says Peter and John) ahead to Bethpage to get the animals for the ride into town. The disciples were instructed to go and find the donkey and its colt tied there in the village; they were to loose them and bring them to Jesus, and if anyone asked what they were doing, they were to say that the Lord needs them and then they would be sent right away. This little preparation was designed by Jesus to demonstrate His authority: He knew the animals would be there, and He knew that if they said the Lord needed them they would be given to them. This was a planned sequence, designed to be an acted parable, a revelation for those who had faith. After the resurrection the disciples could look back and see how Jesus had demonstrated in this and the other events that He had authority, that He was in control of the events, and not losing control to wicked men or evil times.
There have been several suggestions for the interpretation of “Lord” in the words they were to use. Some have suggested the word would refer to the animal’s owner--the master needed his animals. But that would be a lie unless Jesus owned the animals. Besides, Luke tells us the owners asked them what they were doing and then released the animals to them. Some have thought it would refer to Yahweh, that is, the animals would be needed for the service of God at the sanctuary. But why that would be the case is unclear. The simplest explanation is that Jesus was referring to Himself as “Lord,” a title that He accepted from His followers and frequently used of Himself. In the later part of His ministry Jesus used such clear titles for Himself more frequently, and this would be a good example. He clearly was claiming authority as the Lord, even over what appeared to be the possessions of people.
Matthew then records the verses from the prophet Zechariah to say that this event was the fulfillment of that oracle. It is possible that Jesus said these verses to His disciples, introducing them with “This has taken place to fulfill.” That would mean that this introductory formula was said proleptically, just prior to its fulfillment. The other possible interpretation is that the inclusion of the verses was Matthew’s comment on the event afterward. In either interpretation, the point is clear that the event was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah given some 500 years earlier.
The introductory words of the prophecy come from Isaiah 62:11 but the main part of it from Zechariah 9:9. The whole passage is not included here: the expression “righteous and having salvation” was probably understood as part of the quotation used, or, it may be that the focus at this point was on the humility and peace that the King would have.
If we look at Zechariah more closely, the first “burden” begins in chapter 9 and continues through chapter 11. It concerns the anointed King who would be rejected. The second burden, beginning in chapter 12 and going through 14, concerns the rejected King who would be enthroned. This is clearly, then, the part of the prophecy leading up to the rejection and death of messiah. The core of the oracle is that the King would enter the holy city with humility and peace, riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Kings at times rode on donkeys in times of peace (Judg. 5:10; 1 Kings 1:33). And the Jews certainly knew that Zechariah 9:9 was a prophecy of the coming King--the Messiah. Thus we may observe that Jesus was proclaiming His Messiahship, His fulfillment of Scripture, and His coming in peace to offer salvation to the people. By this entry Jesus was compelling the people to recognize Him, at least for the moment, as the coming King predicted in Zechariah. They would have to consider this event in the light of that prediction.
There is some question about the number of animals involved. In the oracle in Zechariah the normal understanding would be that the two lines, one mentioning the donkey, and the other the colt, were Hebrew parallelism referring to one animal and not town. In the New Testament Matthew alone of the four gospels mentions that there were two animals. It is possible that Matthew did this to make the distinction that Jesus rode on the colt, for Mark said Jesus rode on an animal which no one had ever ridden. The point is that Matthew gives a little more detail of the animals to be found tied up, to make it clear that Jesus rode on the colt. So then, in the midst of the excitement of the crowd, a young, unbroken animal remained calm when Jesus rode it, a sign that Jesus controlled nature. This symbolism pointed to the peace of the Messianic kingdom. Matthew, in mentioning the two animals, stresses that Jesus fulfilled the detail of this prophecy--he rode the colt.
The disciples fulfilled their mission and returned with the animals. They then spread their cloaks over them, over both animals. When the text says that Jesus sat on them, it is most likely referring to the cloaks and not the animals. Jesus rode on the colt into the city. Both animals were in the procession, but Jesus rode the colt.
II. The Triumphal Entry (21:7-11).
There was a very large crowd that went with Jesus along the way. Some of them spread their cloaks on the path to acknowledge Jesus’ kingship, and others cut branches and lay them in the way.
Many scholars have noted that cutting down tree branches was a custom of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was held in the fall and not the spring. But for that feast they would cut the branches and make little booths to dwell in--not spread them in the road. Those were larger branches, strong enough to make a lean-to shelter. These are lighter branches, certainly not large ones that might trip the animals. This was again an act of homage at the entrance of the king, and not a celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. 1 Maccabees 13:51 and 2 Maccabees 10:7 show similar customs, indicating that the act of spreading the branches was in recognition of the king.
The Gospels also tell us that throngs of people came with Him in the procession. The news had spread of His arrival in Bethany, and so there was time for the crowds to gather, especially His followers from Galilee, and certainly all those who were looking for the Messiah. Messianic expectations were high at this time, and when the word spread of Jesus’ arrival in the area, people naturally thronged to see Him. After all, His miracles and His teachings had drawn crowds everywhere He went.
The words that the crowds shout along the way come from Psalm 118. That passage, in fact, Psalms 113-118, belong to what is called the Hallel Psalms, psalms sung at all the major festivals in Jerusalem. The words, then, would have been well known even by the common person, much like Christmas Carols and Advent Hymns are known by nominal Church members. The cries included: “Hosanna to the Son of David”; “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD”; and “Hosanna in the highest.”
The word “hosanna” is a Greek writing of the Hebrew verb from the Psalm, “Save!” (Hebrew hosi’ah-na’ [pronounced ho-she-ah-nah]). It is an imperative, a cry for help. In time it became an acclamation, much like the Hebrew word hallelu-yah, which is an imperative (“praise the Lord”) but became an acclamation. The cry is addressed to Jesus as “Son of David.” There was no doubt in the minds of the faithful that this Jesus was the Messiah, the heir to the throne of David. This is confirmed by the exclamation, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.” In Psalm 118 the sentence was a priestly blessing for the king who led the people in procession to the sanctuary to offer praise to the Lord. But it came to be a praise to God for the coming of Messiah--Jesus had been widely recognized by His followers as “the Coming One.” And so when the people repeat their “Hosanna” to God in the highest, which is like saying “Glory to God in the highest” (in Luke) except it is a call for deliverance, they are praising God for sending them the Messiah, the Savior of Israel.
Of course it was fairly easy for the crowds to get caught up in the Messianic fervor in the light of Jesus’ miracles and teachings. They knew He was a prophet, as the text says; and they hailed Him as their coming King. But they had not grasped the inevitable suffering of the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. It was difficult for the people, even those who were the closest to Jesus, to understand that His ride into Jerusalem as the promised Messiah was not to ascend the throne, but to die on the cross.
Luke records that on the way down Olives He was criticized by the leaders for receiving such praise. But Jesus answered that if they did not praise, the stones themselves would cry out. He was--and is--that great. He alone is worthy of such praise; and everything in creation will praise Him.
The whole city was in a stir when Jesus entered triumphantly. When they asked “Who is this?” they probably wanted to know who this Jesus really was that there should be such a stir over him. The answer that was given in the crowds was that He was a prophet of Nazareth. The reference to Nazareth probably indicates some surprise since it was such an unlikely place. But there were people there who recognized Him as the eschatological prophet (see Deut. 18:15-18; John 7:40; Acts 3:22; 7:37). The account here in Matthew leads the reader to the proper conclusion, that Jesus was more than a prophet--He was the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God, who came to save the world.
III. Cleansing of the Temple (21:12-13).
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, probably through what is called St. Stephen’s gate, He immediately went into the temple and drove out the moneychangers and sellers of doves. Matthew does not give all the details that Mark does; he simply focuses on the cleansing of the temple as a significance Messianic act. It is the work of the son of David.
Many biblical scholars believe that there was only one cleansing of the temple, and that there is some confusion as to whether it came early in Jesus’ ministry, or late. But there is every reason to accept that there were two cleansings of the temple, as the Gospels indicate. First, there are striking differences between the first account in John 2:19 and the second account, recorded here. If there had been only one cleansing, then it would be difficult to explain how these differences arose. Second, the failure of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) to mention the first cleansing is in harmony with their omission of Jesus’ early Judean ministry. Third, while some argue that if Jesus did this once the authorities would not have let Him do it again, almost three years have passed, and there would have been no way for them to anticipate and prevent this happening now. Fourth, there is insufficient reason to explain why John would have moved the account of the cleansing to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when it was so closely tied to the triumphal entry and the trial of Jesus. The first cleansing of the temple was Jesus’ declaration of His ministry, that He was going to replace much of the Jewish cultic milieu_ftn1,1 and the second cleansing was Jesus Messianic work of preparing for the perfect sacrifice.
Jesus entered the temple area. The preparation for the service in the temple, especially at Passover, required worshipers to get the materials, wood, oil, the animals, and the like, and present them to the priests for approval. Nisan 10 was the day that the animal was to be presented. Thus, in one sense Jesus was presenting Himself both as the prophet and king, and also as the Lamb for the Passover.
The presence of the money-changers (never easily stamped out) changed a holy place into a place of commerce (and profit). And so Jesus drove them all out. And when He did He cited two passages of Scripture from the prophets. His first words were from Isaiah 56:7--the temple was supposed to be a House of prayer (see 1 Kings 8 for Solomon’s dedication of the temple as a House of prayer). But here, at the coming of the Messiah, the temple had become a den of robbers. These words come from Jeremiah 7:11. Jeremiah had denounced the superstitious worship in the temple that included all kinds of wickedness that ruined the worship. Jesus’ words make it clear that the moneychangers were dishonest, and more than making this a commercial center, it was a corrupt commercial center. The Greek word for “robber” probably includes its basic sense of “nationalist rebel.” The people had forgotten that this temple was to be a witness to all nations (the full quote is found in Mark) and not a center where the Jewish people superstitiously believed that God would protect His people no matter what they did. Thus, the same problem existed here as had been present in the days of Jeremiah: the people thought the temple was their security, and as long as it was standing they were safe, no matter what they did in it or with it. But Jesus here, as Jeremiah centuries earlier, knew that the temple had to go, for it had gotten in the way of true righteousness. His cleansing the temple therefore was a symbolic act by when He showed that the wicked had no place here. Jesus’ focus then was on the spiritual neglect of the true purpose of the temple, in contrast to the corruption of those in it who had a mistaken understanding of it as a political and religious center.
Now, for a moment at least, the temple would be cleansed and be a spiritual place. There were tables and coins scattered everywhere, and moneychangers running from the place; but for a brief moment the temple was beautiful again. Jesus quoted from Isaiah, “My House shall be a House of prayer.” But the rest of the verse that He did not quote says that the Lord Yahweh who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, yet will I gather others to Him, besides His own who are gathered. Jesus quoted half of the passage; but He did the other half. And by answering the prayers of the outcasts and making them fit for the sanctuary, Jesus put the temple back into proper service. He made it a beautiful place once again.
The little event also fulfills the prophecy of Malachi (3:1), which said that the Lord would come to His temple, and then asked who could stand at His coming. Two observations are in order here. First, the Messiah was to come to His temple. Throughout the Old Testament the temple was called “the House of Yahweh.” It was God’s House--not that He was restricted to dwelling there. But Malachi said that the Messiah is the Lord who would come to His temple. And Jesus appropriated the words of Isaiah to call the temple “My House.” Here we have several indications that Jesus the Messiah was divine, for not only was He to come to His temple, but He is the Lord who would come to judge the earth.
Second, the purification of the temple was therefore part of the Jewish expectation of what the Messiah was supposed to do. Jesus’ action here then was a self-revelation of His Messiahship and His eschatological authority over the Temple. While the people saw Jesus drive out the rebels who were ruining the place, they did not realize that this was a sign of greater things to come, i.e., the complete destruction of the temple and the building of a new one. Jesus would predict that more clearly during the passion week.
IV. Praise of the Children (21:14-17)
The passage closes with the report that Jesus healed many people. Here the look of indignation in the Lord changed to a look of compassion, and what had just been a den of robbers now became a holy place where people had their prayers answered--they were healed.
Not only is this the last mention of Jesus’ healing ministry, it took place in the temple, probably in the Court of the Gentiles. The lame and ill could go only so far into the temple precincts, to this court (unless they had things with them that would defile the court, clothing, pads and the like). So Jesus met them there and healed them, making them spiritually and physically fit and qualified to go into the temple area that had been off limits to them. Two things must be stressed here. First, Jesus again was showing that a greater than the temple was here (12:6). Both the cleansing of the temple and the healing of the people shows Jesus’ authority over the temple and those who ran it. Second, Jesus was showing that He alone could make people whole so that they could enter the sanctuary. He was God’s remedy for mankind’s ruin; He was the provision of sanctification for the sins and the infirmities of the world.
Naturally the chief priests and teachers of the law were rather upset over the acclamation He was receiving from the crowd. Think of it! He healed many people and caused the children to sing--and they were angry. We do not want to know much more about them, not with that condemnation. But it was when the children were singing “Hosanna to the Son of David” that these leaders became very angry. The point is that if Jesus received such praise in these words, He must be doing the things that Messiah was to do. This they could not accept. But Jesus answered them by citing Psalm 8:2, introducing it with the rebuke: “Have you never read?” He was responding to their indignation by uncovering their spiritual ignorance. Psalm 8 is a praise to God for creation, especially the praise of God for making man a little lower than God and crowning him with glory and honor. But in that Psalm are the words that God had ordained praise for Himself from children and infants. Quoting this psalm did several things: First, it allowed the children to go on with their boisterous praise throughout the temple area. Second, Jesus was applying a passage of Scripture that was about praise to God to Himself. The praise was for the Son of David--and Jesus said that was prophesied by the Psalm as God ordaining praise for Himself. Jesus was affirming His Messiahship, but also His divine nature--He had come into the world in a form a little lower than God, but would be crowned with honor and glory when all things were to be put under His feet (Heb. 2:6 ). Psalm 8 anticipated that the human life that God created was destined for higher and loftier things; and Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was the one to lead humanity into its divinely intended place. Third, Jesus was again showing that the humble receive spiritual truths more readily than the learned and the wise. The children did not have the learned skepticism and self-interest that the leaders had. They therefore were the natural voices of praise for Jesus the Messiah.
And so it was an uproarious day in Jerusalem. The Galileans had been shouting their praise and devotion to Christ; and Jerusalem was shaken. The moneychangers had been thrown out of the temple, and there was debris lying everywhere. Then the children sang, and Jesus said, “That is praise perfected!”
The religious teachers had no answer, for all these events did not just happen by chance--they were all ordained by God from antiquity, and the words of the Hebrew prophets that predicted them were now being fulfilled to the letter. It would require sever spiritual blindness not to see it.
This, the, is the “triumphal entry.” It is not a triumphal entry in the tradition of the Romans, who, after some great victory, would parade into the city with pomp and praise to take their seat on the throne as the victor. This was the entry of a King, to be sure, but more than a King. This was the entry of the Messiah, the King of Kings; and yet His triumph was to be the greatest victory of all time, the victory over sin, death and the grave. To do that He would have to die in place of all humanity, and then rise from the dead as the sign that He had overcome it all. Thus, He entered the city to die. Then, when He comes again, He will appear in glory as the truly triumphant and glorious King of Kings.
His entry into the holy city was therefore the beginning of His Passion. Just as the High Priest in the Old Testament had to sanctify and purify the temple before the atoning sacrifice could be offering, the coming Lord had to cleanse the temple to make preparation for the perfect sacrifice that was to be offered, the one that all the sacrifices in ancient Israel pointed to in their prophetic sense. What was set in motion by this dramatic emphasis was the self-disclosure of Jesus in anticipation of His death. Through this and subsequent events He revealed who He was, why He came, and what He was about to accomplish, so that when He was crucified people would have a clearer understanding of the event--at least when they had a chance to reflect on it and recall all that Jesus had said and done, and how that all fulfilled the Messianic promises in the Old Testament.
There are so many applications that one could make from this passage, but a few stand out as essential.
First, if Jesus Christ is indeed the Lord and Savior of all people, then all people must acclaim Him to be so and call on Him to save them--”Hosanna” in its true sense. The believers in Jesus have done this; those who have not yet believed in Him must do so if they are to be saved. The message of the triumphal entry is therefore an evangelistic message: Behold, your king comes, lowly, and riding upon a donkey! If we want a share in His kingdom, then we must acknowledge Him as Lord; if we want to enter His kingdom, we have to accept His death for your sins. Those who have done this must proclaim this message on behalf of their King.
Second, if Jesus Christ is God’s remedy for the ruin of the race, then we must look to Him for physical and spiritual healing. He healed many people, not only when He entered the temple on this day, but in His lifetime on earth, to declare that He is able to solve all the problems that exist in our world. Either in this life, or in the life to come, those who trust in Him will be made whole in body, soul and spirit.
Third, all praise and glory belongs to Him--not just because He healed people while on earth (although in human experience that would be praiseworthy) but because all power is given to Him in heaven and on earth. He has authority over life and death, sickness and health, nature and the supernatural. People should never cease praising Him for all He is and does. Like the followers of Jesus in this story, even though we may not understand everything that the Lord is doing, we follow Him with love and devotion, and we acclaim Him as the coming King, and we praise Him as the Savior and Lord.
Fourth, there will always be opposition to Christ Jesus, and criticism of His works, sometimes even from devoutly religious people. There is a spiritual hardening in many people because of sin, and because of the blindness of the god of this age, and they will not acknowledge that Jesus is the divine Lord, God in the flesh, Savior and King, the one who will reign over the whole world forever.
There are many who say that if Jesus was the Messiah He should have brought in an age of peace and glory. And there are some who say that He was a prophet but not God. And there are some who say His death was a nice example of love, but not redemptive. But of course, the Scriptures say otherwise and show these claims to be false teaching. Therefore, all that the household of faith can do is to continue to proclaim what the Scripture teaches, both the Old and New Testaments, that He is Lord and Savior, that He came into this world to suffer and die for our sins, and that apart from Him there is no peace with God and no hope for peace in this world.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday was a triumphal entry because by it He began to fulfill His mission on earth, to suffer and die as the sacrifice for sin. In His death is the triumph over sin; in His resurrection is the victory over the grave. No mere mortal ever accomplished such a thing; no human ever had such a victorious beginning to his reign--which is why all human kings died and returned to dust. But Jesus Christ our Lord is alive forever more, because His triumph conquered death.
1 While there is not sufficient time to study John 2 here, it is important to note what happened. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” The disciples later knew that He was talking about His body, and the resurrection. Why did He not simply say that? The only answer is that there was a double meaning to what He said. When they put Jesus to death, they (thought they) were destroying His body, but they were also destroying the temple. For when Jesus made the perfect sacrifice, there would no longer be a need for the temple. Moreover, when Jesus rose from the grave, He also raised up a new temple, for the Church, the believers, would be known not only as the body of Christ, but the temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus announced early in His ministry how He was going to transform the essence of religion. People would now worship not in one mountain or another, but in Spirit and in Truth.