GRAND ENTRANCE OF THE MESSIAH KING INTO JERUSALEM ACCOMPANIED BY POPULAR PRAISE BUT BLIND PERCEPTION
Michael Wilkins: The crescendo of Jesus’ messianic ministry occurs as he enters Jerusalem, the city of the great King (Ps. 48:1–2), the center of Israel’s spiritual life and messianic hope. This initiates the “Holy Week” or “Passion Week.” “Passion” comes from the Latin passio (“suffering”), which originally meant the suffering of a martyr. Early Latin translations of the New Testament adopted the term passio to point to the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ suffering and its attending events. The earliest message about Jesus given by the apostolic band was the Passion, as we can see from the earliest preaching accounts in Acts. If we look at percentages of the Gospels given over to the Passion Week, it comprises from 25–48 percent of their materials.
Donald Hagner: Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem is an important dividing point in the Gospel. The Galilean ministry has come to an end, and the journey to Jerusalem has been completed. Now all that remains are the events, the deeds and teaching in Jerusalem, that are preliminary to the goal and climax of the entire Gospel narrative. We now meet in chaps. 21–23 the final encounter between Jesus and Israel, consisting of a trio of parables (21:28 – 22:14), conflict stories (22:15–46), and the diatribe against the Pharisees in chap. 23. This pericope describing the actual arrival in the holy city presents a poignant mixture of truth and irony. Jesus is welcomed for what he in truth is, the Son of David, the Messiah of Israel, yet it is precisely as such that he will be rejected by the people. For the moment, however, Jesus will receive the acclaim of the people, and Matthew will record the impact of his arrival in Jerusalem. But when Jesus shows that he is a different kind of Messiah than that of the popular expectation, the people will no longer support him. Paradoxically they will send the one they now receive with such jubilation to his death on the cross. Thus the triumphal entry is a prelude to the passion.
Stu Weber: For a short time, the people would acknowledge Jesus’ true identity as the sovereign Son of David, but they would fail to identify him also as the sacrificial Son of Abraham. They knew he had come to restore his kingdom, but they missed the fact that he was also here to redeem his people. They anticipated the sovereignty but overlooked the sacrifice. Jesus would not exercise the rule without the redemption.
Richard Gardner: The use of a donkey rather than a mighty war-horse says something about the character of the Messiah’s reign. A ruler who comes to Israel on a donkey symbolizes a humble reign of serving the common good, not a kingdom of violence and military conquest. For Matthew, then, the scene of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey both proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah and conveys a picture of the servant role which defines his messiahship.
Daniel Doriani: The time of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, torment, crucifixion, and death will soon be upon him, but before his humiliation, Matthew provides Jesus’ disciples with one more reminder that he is King and Lord. At that point in his ministry, his royalty and reign were veiled, just as it is today, when the lordship of Jesus is often veiled. Matthew 21 reminds us that things are not always as they seem and that symbolic acts often provide profound insight into hidden truths.
Walter Wilson: As the Messiah approaches Jerusalem, his royal status is manifested in a public way. When they reach Bethphage, Jesus sends two disciples to bring him a donkey and a colt, the implication being that their availability is a matter of divine provision. Matthew further shows his readers how Jesus’s use of the animals took place in fulfillment of a biblical prophecy, one that praises the humility of the coming king. The crowds accompanying Jesus, meanwhile, praise him as the Son of David and the one who comes in the name of the Lord, that is, the one sent by God’s very self (cf. 11:3). Everything that transpires, then, follows a divine plan. The impact of the Messiah’s actual entrance into Jerusalem is heightened by the scene of the entire city being shaken as though by an earthquake (cf. 27:51; 28:4). To queries from the city’s populace about the identity of the one whose appearance is creating such tumult, the crowd of pilgrims acclaims him as a prophet from Nazareth. Ironically, the citizens of Israel’s capital do not know that they are about to meet their king. . .
Jesus is not a military conqueror or a distinguished visitor. His actions culminate not in legitimization but in confrontation (21:12–16). For their part, the readers know that Jesus is in fact the king (21:5), and that in failing to receive him properly, the city’s leadership is in fact dishonoring their king, a deed bound to have dire consequences. This triumph, then, is ultimately an act of judgment.
Warren Wiersbe: But the Jews still did not recognize Jesus as their King. What caused Israel’s spiritual blindness? For one thing, their religious leaders had robbed them of the truth of their own Word and had substituted man-made traditions (Luke 11:52). The leaders were not interested in truth; they were concerned only with protecting their own interests (John 11:47-53). “We have no king but Caesar!” was their confession of willful blindness. Even our Lord’s miracles did not convince them. And the longer they resisted the truth, the blinder they became (John 12:35ff.).
(:1a) GEOGRAPHICAL TRANSITION
“And when they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage,
to the Mount of Olives,”
Stu Weber: The name Bethphage means “House of Unripe Figs.” This was a village on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. The mountain was several hundred feet higher than Jerusalem, providing a spectacular view of the city.
William Barclay: It was the Passover time, and Jerusalem and the whole surrounding neighbourhood were crowded with pilgrims. Thirty years later, a Roman governor was to take a census of the lambs slain in Jerusalem for the Passover and find that the number was not far off 250,000. It was the Passover regulation that there must be a party of a minimum of ten for each lamb, which means that at that Passover time more than 2,500,000 people had crowded their way into Jerusalem. The law was that every adult male Jew who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem must come to the Passover; but not only the Jews of Palestine, Jews from every corner of the world made their way to the greatest of their national festivals. Jesus could not have chosen a more dramatic moment; it was into a city surging with people keyed up with religious expectations that he came.
Donald Hagner: [Bethphage] was apparently on τὸ ὄρος τῶν ἐλαιῶν, “the Mount of Olives,” just overlooking Jerusalem and close to Bethany, with which it is linked in Mark 11:1; Luke 19:28. The village to which the two disciples were sent (v. 2) was probably this Bethany. Zech 14:4 (a passage with messianic associations) speaks of Yahweh standing on the Mount of Olives in the time of eschatological fulfillment, and perhaps for this reason it is from the Mount of Olives that Jesus ascends to heaven and to that site that he will return when the eschaton is fully and finally to dawn (cf. Luke 24:50–51; Acts 1:11–12; Jos., Ant. 20.8.6 §169; J.W. 2.13.5 §§261–62).
I. (:1b-5) PREPARATION FOR PUBLIC ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM AS THE MESSIAH
A. (:1b-3) Donkey Retrieval Showing Divine Control
- (:1b-2) Instructions Based on Divine Control
“then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, ‘Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her;
untie them, and bring them to Me.’”
Charles Swindoll: The fact is, though two beasts of burden were present at the Triumphal Entry, Jesus didn’t ride on both animals at once. In no case would that be a believable scenario. Jesus rode on the younger donkey, upon which no one had ever ridden. Mark, Luke, and John focus full attention on the single animal, the colt, upon which Jesus rode. They saw no need to mention the other beast of burden that would have been carrying only excess baggage and clothing. . .
The geography of this event is important. Because of the journey through peaks and valleys from Bethany to Jerusalem, thousands of pilgrims on the road would have been able to see from a distance the man riding on a young donkey. The presence of the colt’s mother beside him would have been a clue that the rider was making some kind of statement. I’m sure that with that many devoted Jews seeing the scene from either above or below, several in the crowd would have made the connection with the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.
Donald Hagner: the two animals, which were kept so closely together, are conceptually regarded as a single, inseparable unit (which is probably also how Matthew understood the Zechariah quotation with its literally understood coming “upon” two animals; see Frenz), despite the plural language, which, as argued above, is kept by Matthew for the detailed coincidence with the OT quotation. Thus when Jesus sat upon “them,” we are probably to understand simply that Jesus sat upon the colt with the ass just beside it.
David Turner: Jesus’s supernatural knowledge and control of this situation are remarkable in light of Matthew’s emphasis on his humility. To stress the entry as an acted parable (Hill 1972: 290) of Jesus’s humility, Matthew cites Zech. 9:9, conflated with introductory words from Isa. 62:11 (cf. John 12:14–15). The term “daughter of Zion” is a common biblical expression that refers to Jerusalem and its inhabitants (cf., e.g., 2 Kings 19:21; Ps. 9:14; Isa. 1:8; 16:1; 37:22; Jer. 4:31; 6:2; Lam. 1:6; Mic. 4:8, 10, 13; Zeph. 3:14; Zech. 2:10). Zechariah 9:9 mentions that the coming king will be just, bring salvation, and be humble, but Matthew selects only the last characteristic, humility (cf. Matt. 5:5, 9; 11:29). Humility is commonly mentioned as a characteristic of biblical kings: Saul (1 Sam. 9:21), David (2 Sam. 7:18–19), Ahab (1 Kings 21:29), and Josiah (2 Kings 22:18–20).
- (:3) Insistence Based on Divine Control
“And if anyone says something to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”
Craig Blomberg: As again later with their preparation for the Passover (26:18), it is not clear whether the disciples’ rendezvous stems from Jesus’ prior arrangements or from his supernatural insight. “The Lord” is, more literally, their Lord/Master and also suggests a double entendre. The disciples will act as if they are servants of the donkey’s owner. If anyone becomes suspicious of their behavior, their reply need mean nothing more than that the owner has asked them to bring him the animals. But Matthew undoubtedly sees Jesus as the true Master, not only of the donkeys but of all people’s property, which he can rightfully demand at any time.
B. (:4-5) Prophetic Fulfilment Showing Humility of Mission
“Now this took place that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 5 Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you,
Gentle, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
Daniel Doriani: The prophecy has three elements.
- First, Jerusalem must rejoice, for her king is coming.
- Second, the king comes gently, in peace. He does not come to make war, but to remove the instruments of war—chariots, war horses, and battle bows.
- Third, the king brings salvation, for his reign will extend from sea to sea.
R. T. France: Matthew (like John) explains Jesus’ ride on the donkey as the fulfillment of Zech 9:9. Even without an explicit quotation of that prophecy in the text, any Jewish reader of the story could hardly fail to be reminded of it and of the royal ideology which underlies it. Zechariah’s prophecy of a humble and peaceful king coming to Jerusalem “vindicated and saved” is based on the story of David’s return to the city after the defeat of Absalom’s rebellion, when he came in triumph as king, and yet humbly and in peace (2 Sam 19–20). When the Son of David chose to ride down to the city from the Mount of Olives on a donkey, the acted allusion was unmistakable. A further messianic nuance is added by the “foal” and “donkey’s colt” which feature in the royal oracle of Gen 49:10–11, and observers might also have remembered how Solomon, the son of David, rode on a mule to his enthronement in 1 Kgs 1:38–40. We shall note below (see on vv. 2–3) that Jesus’ donkey-ride was a matter of deliberate choice, and indeed probably of careful planning, rather than a matter of necessity. Among a crowd of pilgrims on foot the rider on the donkey intended to be noticed and expected his supporters to draw the appropriate conclusion. He cannot have been surprised or displeased when they did. Such a deliberately provocative approach to the city is consistent also with the equally public and provocative action which Jesus was to take on his arrival in the temple area (vv. 12–13). Among the Passover crowds coming into the city it would have been possible for Jesus and his disciples to arrive without drawing attention to themselves, but Jesus has not come to slip quietly into Jerusalem. . .
But in deliberately presenting himself before Jerusalem as its messianic king, Jesus has chosen an OT model which subverts any popular militaristic idea of kingship. The meek, peaceful donkey-rider of Zech 9:9 is not a potential leader of an anti-Roman insurrection. In 20:25–28 Jesus has spoken of a type of leadership which is completely opposed to the world’s notions of kingship and authority, and now he models it in the “meekness” of his royal procession to the city.
II. (:6-9) PRAISE ACCOMPANYING PUBLIC ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM AS THE MESSIAH
A. (:6-7) Donkey Saddling
- (:6) Following Instructions
“And the disciples went and did just as Jesus had directed them,”
- (:7) Functioning Saddle
“and brought the donkey and the colt,
and laid on them their garments, on which He sat.”
B. (:8-9) Celebratory Procession of Praise
- (:8) Paving the Way
“And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road.”
Donald Hagner: Although the king rides into the city humbly upon the lowly colt of an ass, the crowds bring him into the city with a public demonstration befitting a king.
Craig Blomberg: The whole picture conveys celebration and honor, reminiscent of the victory parades with which triumphant kings and generals in Old Testament and intertestamental times were welcomed (cf. 2 Kgs 9:13; 1 Macc 13:51). The strewing of garments and branches further demonstrates how the crowds have the wrong messianic concept. There will be no victory party when they arrive in Jerusalem.
- (:9) Praising the Messianic King
“And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!’”
William Barclay: It may be that the word hosanna had lost some of its original meaning, and that it had become to some extent only a cry of welcome and of acclamation, like ‘Hail!’; but essentially it is a people’s cry for deliverance and for help in the day of their trouble; it is an oppressed people’s cry to their saviour and their king.
R. T. France: “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the Lord’s name” both derive from Psalm 118 (vv. 25 and 26 respectively), which was the last and longest of the Hallel psalms (113–118) traditionally chanted at the major festivals in Jerusalem. The latter part of Ps 118 apparently describes a joyful pilgrimage (with green branches, v. 27) into the temple, led by the king (the “one who comes in the Lord’s name”), and it is from those verses that the crowd’s shouts are drawn. “Hosanna” is a Greek representation of the Hebrew hôšîʿâ-nāʾ, “Save us now”, which opens the plea for God’s blessing in v. 25; the phrase seems to have passed into more general use as a shout of praise, like Hallelujah, and that is how it is used here, where the following dative “to the Son of David” makes it clear that it is an ascription of praise rather than a prayer. The same sense is required in the second Hosanna clause by the addition of “in the highest,” a reverent way of speaking of God in heaven (cf. Luke 2:14). The fact that the same praise formula is applied to the Son of David and to God is interesting in the light of later christological developments, but that is probably to read too much into the instinctive exuberance of this pilgrim crowd. In the psalm “the one who comes in the Lord’s name” was probably the king, leading the festival procession, and as such the acclamation fits well with Jesus’ regal approach to the city. But in the light of the title “Son of David” it seems clear that for the crowd Jesus was not just any king, but the expected Messiah whose “coming” the prophets had foretold.
Leon Morris: Matthew goes on to the acclamations that were a feature of the excitement. He speaks of two crowds, one ahead of Jesus and one behind. The one will doubtless be pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for the Passover (whose enthusiasm was perhaps generated because they had heard his teaching and seen his miracles in Galilee), and the other is probably mainly local, those who lived in the capital city and its environs (and who had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead or had heard of it). Characteristically Matthew has the plural form crowds for both. His verb were shouting is in the imperfect tense, which indicates that the shouting kept on for quite some time. The picture we get is one of great excitement. Evidently there were many Galileans who had thought of Jesus as the Messiah and were disappointed that in his own area he made no public declaration of who he was and of his determination to establish a kingdom that would throw the mighty Romans out of the land. But they had heard his teaching and they had seen him do miracles. As a result they had hoped that he would proclaim himself King, and they were prepared to follow him if he did. Now they thought he was going to fulfil their hopes, and they were ecstatic at the prospect. . .
To come “in the name” of anyone was to come in some sense representing him and to come in order to set forward his purposes. The crowds proclaim Jesus as God’s representative, one who would set forward the divine purpose. Luke and John both include “the king” in this part of the crowd’s cry, and although Matthew does not use the expression, it is implied. It was because they foresaw a Galilean King that the crowd of pilgrims got so excited. They cried “Hosanna” once again, and this time added “in the highest.” It is an enthusiastic cry and probably means that Jesus is to be praised everywhere, right up to heaven itself.
Daniel Doriani: “Hosanna” was often a nationalistic cry, rather like “God save the king” in England or “God bless America” in the United States.
III. (:10-11) PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF JESUS INADEQUATE
A. (:10) Curiosity Regarding Jesus’ Identity
“And when He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’”
R. T. France: The entry follows the royal acclamation, in which the people of Jerusalem are not yet involved. What happens in vv. 8–9 is outside the city walls, and the people who hail Jesus as the Son of David are specifically described as Jesus’ traveling companions, “the crowds, both those who were going ahead of him and those who were following him.” (v. 9) It is only in v. 10 that we are introduced to the people of the city, and their reaction is specifically contrasted in vv. 10–11 with that of the enthusiastic, mainly Galilean (see on 20:29) crowd. All this can be discerned by the careful reader of Mark 11:1–11, but Matthew, by his addition of vv. 10–11, has more clearly drawn the reader’s attention to the opposing views of the Galilean pilgrims and of the people of Jerusalem. It is surprising how many readers, unaware of the “tribal” distinction between Galilee and Judea, have failed to notice this element of the story, and so continue to talk and preach about the fickleness of a crowd which could shout “Hosanna” one day and “Crucify him” a few days later. That is an unfortunate misreading both of the texts and of the historical situation: the Jerusalem crowd of 27:15–25 were not the same people as the pilgrims who had escorted Jesus into the city.
B. (:11) Characterization as a Galilean Prophet
“And the multitudes were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.’”
Richard Gardner: Finally, in a piece of narration found only in Matthew (vv. 10-11), Jerusalem itself responds to Jesus’ festive entry. With the same verb he uses elsewhere to describe a storm or earthquake (cf. 8:24; 24:7; 27:51-54; 28:2-4), Matthew tells us that the whole city was thrown into an uproar (GNB). The description recalls the scene in 2:3 when all Jerusalem was troubled by the news of Jesus’ birth! So it is that the residents of the city ask: Who is this? The somewhat subdued answer identifies Jesus in terms of his Galilean roots (cf. 2:23; 4:12-16) and the prophetic role in which he will soon confront the city. It is an ominous answer, we will learn shortly, because Jerusalem has a reputation of killing God’s prophets (23:37). To call Jesus a prophet, therefore, is to signal in advance the fate that awaits him.