Introduction to the Passion
When we get to Matthew chapter 21, we find Jesus and his disciples making their long-anticipated arrival to Jerusalem. This passage is SUPER important, and SUPER dramatic!!!
They have been on the road for quite some time, and Jesus has been healing, teaching, and preaching, all along the way. And all along the way, his disciples have been anticipating their arrival in Jerusalem, and the arrival of God’s kingdom, with Jesus as king.
The disciples have even been bickering about who will be the most important in the kingdom, as they sense the imminent arrival of a huge, momentous event. The suspense has been building, and in today’s passage we finally see them arrive in Jerusalem.
This is climactic, and the disciples probably are expecting that this is in fact the ultimate climax of their journey.
The thing is, Jesus has told them several times that he’s coming to Jerusalem to be killed…to be mocked, and crucified. He’s also told them he’s going to rise again on the third day. But this seems to completely befuddle the disciples. They can’t wrap their heads around how this is possible.
HOW is Jesus going to become king by being killed???
It is possible that the disciples expected Jesus to establish his kingdom and place them on their individual thrones BEFORE his death. There may not be a contradiction, it might just be a matter of perceived timeline.
The events recorded in Matthew have so far spanned several years. Most scholars place Jesus public ministry (after his baptism) in the years of 28-31 AD. Chapters 4-20 of Matthew’s gospel span these 3-4 years. The last 8 chapters, 21:1-28:15, span about a week.
Matthew, as has been his custom, grouped events together by theme, not by chronology. To help keep the timeline in mind, here is a quick overview of the last week:
- Friday - Arrival in Bethany (John 12:1)
- Saturday - Mary’s anointing of Jesus (John 12:2–8; cf. Matt 26:6–13 par.)
- Sunday - Triumphal entry (Matt 21:1–11 par.), surveying the temple (Mark 11:11), return to Bethany (Matt 21:17; Mark 11:11)
- Monday - Cleansing the temple (21:12–13 par.); cursing the fig tree (21:18–22); miracles and challenge in the temple (21:14–16); return to Bethany (Mark 11:19)
- Tuesday - Disciples’ questions regarding the fig tree (Mark 11:20–21); debates with the leaders in the temple (Matt 21:23–22:46 par.); Olivet Discourse after return to Bethany (Matt 24–25)
- Wednesday - Little recorded in the gospels—Jesus and disciples apparently remain in Bethany; Judas arranges for his betrayal (26:14–16 par.)
- Thursday - Preparation for Passover (26:17–19 par.); after sundown, Passover meal and Last Supper (26:20–35); Farewell Discourse (John 13–17); Gethsemane (Matt 26:30–46 par.)
- Friday - After midnight, the betrayal and arrest (26:47–56); Jewish trials—Annas (John 18:13–14), Caiaphas and partial Sanhedrin (Matt 26:57–75 par.), full Sanhedrin (27:1–2); Roman trial—Pilate (27:2–14 par.), Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6–12), Pilate (Matt 27:15–26 par.); crucifixion (9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 27:27–56); burial (27:57–61 par.); tomb sealed with guards (27:62–66)
There are 3 major movements in this section of Matthew’s gospel: the entry, the scene at the temple and the confrontation with the religious leaders.
The coming king.
According to this timeline, it was a Sunday, the day after the Sabbath when this entry to Jerusalem took place.
There are 3 groups we can pay attention to:
- Crowds from Galilee
- Crowds in Jerusalem
Matthew 21:1–11 CSB
1 When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus then sent two disciples, 2 telling them, “Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there with her colt. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: 5 Tell Daughter Zion, “See, your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt; then they laid their clothes on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their clothes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. 9 Then the crowds who went ahead of him and those who followed shouted: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven! 10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The disciples are the instruments Jesus uses to make this intentional grand entrance. They had just walked from Capernaum, and were close to the city. Jesus did not NEED to ride on a donkey because of the length of the journey. He CHOSE to ride on the donkey to make a statement about who he is and what he was about to do.
The Galilean Crowd
The crowds from Galilee has grown from “a crowd” (20:31) to “a very large crowd” (21:8). This group had seen the miracles, including the healing of the blind men. They ascribe to Jesus the title of prophet and they give him the honor of a king. They certainly see him as both a Davidic role and a Moses role, but they have not fully connected all the dots.
The Jerusalem Crowd
The Jerusalem crowd wants to know who this person is! The crowd in Jerusalem would be not just natives, but those coming in from all over or the passover celebration. While the exact population of Israel at this time was not recorded, estimates range from 35k to almost 3 million. One commentary came to this conclusion:
Matthew Explanation of the Text
Jerusalem, a city of about 70,000 (Rev 11:13 says one-tenth of the city was 7,000), swelled to about 250,000 for Passover.
That is about the same, comparatively, as cramming the entire population of Syracuse NY into Watertown.
IF you have ever been to the Olympics you have seen this! In 1980 the population of Lake Placid NY was a little less than 3,000 people. When the games began, 50,000 spectators per day visited the town.
Not only did these large crowds need places to stay, and food, but they also needed sacrifices to offer in the temple. For those travel such long distances, taking the sacrificial animals with them would not have been practical, so they would buy the animals once arriving in Jerusalem. Remember that for the next section.
There are some quotes from the prophets that take place in our passage. One is from Zechariah:
Zechariah 9:9–10 CSB
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; he is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem. The bow of war will be removed, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will extend from sea to sea, from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
Jesus arriving the way that he did was a pronouncement of HOPE and PEACE to Israel. While the people still perceived Jesus as prophet, Jesus is pointing out that he is more - he is the long awaited Messiah that will establish his kingdom over all the earth. This kingdom will be ruled by the anointed one (Messiah) and will usher in a season of peace to all nations.
This is what the disciples had been looking for!
This is what Israel had been looking for!
Not only was this the announcement of a prophet, but also of a king. Another possible passage that he could be connecting to is Gen 49:10-11
Genesis 49:10–11 CSB
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him. 11 He ties his donkey to a vine, and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine and his robes in the blood of grapes.
Matthew records that the two disciples came back with a mother and a foal - 2 animals. The people put their robes on the donkeys and Jesus rode on the robes.
The mother donkey was led alongside her untamed foal in order to calm it. The clothes of bystanders were draped across the backs of both animals, serving as makeshift decorative saddles. The words he sat on them refer to Jesus sitting atop the robes, not to his riding both animals simultaneously.
Dever, M. E. (2017). Church Discipline. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 1537). Holman Bible Publishers.
Why is that detail in here? This is similar to what took place when God anointed Jehu as king of Israel in 2 Kings 9. Only, in that passage they put the robes on the steps Jehu was walking on. The people also cut down branches and put them on the road, which is a sign of kingship.
They are presenting Jesus as not only the anointed one, but also as the one who will sit on the throne in Jerusalem.
The people get it! How do we know? Their words:
They refer to him as the son of David. This was not a link just to his family tie, but to the promise of a seed of David that would sit on the throne forever. We often refer to this as the Davidic covenant which is found in 2 Samuel 7.
In Matthew 12:42 Jesus referred to himself and the kingdom of God as “something greater than Solomon”. Let me share with you a really cool hyperlink in today’s passage.
IN MATTHEW: Jesus rode on the foal of a donkey, into Jerusalem, as a king, and the entire city was shaken. That is the literal translation of the word “stirred” or “uproar” in 21:10 is the word “shaken”, and is the same word used to describe the earthquake that takes place in 27:51.
SOLOMON: Listen to the description of the coronation of Solomon:
1 Kings 1:38–40 CSB
38 Then the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites went down, had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and took him to Gihon. 39 The priest Zadok took the horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the ram’s horn, and all the people proclaimed, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 All the people went up after him, playing flutes and rejoicing with such a great joy that the earth split open from the sound.
I believe Matthew is using the language of 1 Kings to point us to the reminder that the Greater King has arrived and is going to assume the throne.
Remember, it was the common opinion of that time that the Messiah would come as a political/physical leader to re-establish Israel to the place it was when David and Solomon ruled. They expected Messiah to throw down Rome and recreate the Davidic kingdom on earth.
They certainly did NOT think he would do that by dying!
This was also an important teaching for the disciples, who would NOT understand it completely until after Jesus ascended to the Father.
John 12:16 CSB
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first. However, when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
John seems to imply that the glorification of Jesus was a key to unlocking the truth of these events.
The Real Question
These events caused a tremendous stir in all of Jerusalem:
Matthew 21:10–11 CSB
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The crowds wanted to know, “Who is Jesus?”
THIS is THE most important question ever! It is the PURPOSE of the gospels - to answer that question. Was he just a good teacher, a prophet or a myth? OR, is he the actual Son of God who came to earth to die for the sins of the world?
The answer that was given was close… but not quite right. The crowds still saw Jesus as just a great prophet, a man of God like John, or Elijah. That part they got wrong.
We have mentioned many times that Jesus is the better David/Solomon (king) the batter Aaron (high priest) and the better Moses (prophet). Matthew connected Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the mountain during the transfiguration. We also learned that John was an Elijah (which is also prophesied by Malachi in 4:5). That points to Jesus as the Moses figure. Listen to the words of Moses:
Deuteronomy 18:15–19 CSB
15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16 This is what you requested from the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not continue to hear the voice of the Lord our God or see this great fire any longer, so that we will not die!’ 17 Then the Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name.
There had not been a prophet in Israel for over 400 years - since the time of Malachi. So the arrival of a prophet would have been very big news!
The Cleansing of the Temple
The second movement of this section takes us to the temple.
Matthew 21:12–13 CSB
12 Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs 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 of thieves!”
While Matthew places this immediately after the donkey ride into Jerusalem, Mark tells us that this event occurs on day two. Immediately after the crowds shouting and placing branches on the road, Mark records this:
Mark 11:11 CSB
11 He went into Jerusalem and into the temple. After looking around at everything, since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Basically, Jesus sized up the situation. Just as arriving on the donkey was an intentional action to connect Jesus as Messiah, this event that takes place on day two is well calculated and planned, not just a spontaneous reaction to a surprise situation.
Imagine a massive crowd following Jesus to the temple… probably expecting him to teach again. Instead he flips over tables and drives people out of the temple.
It says that Jesus went to the temple and drive out the merchants. It might be hard to picture this in our heads. This was not a simple coffee shop type arrangement in the foyer. This is like the agricultural section of the state fair at your church building! You should understand that the template area was HUGE!
Matthew Explanation of the Text
There were shops immediately outside the temple year-round, and they did a thriving trade. However, Jesus’ act was not addressed against them but against the trade inside the temple. It took place in the Court of Gentiles, a large area (twenty-five acres) in the southeast quadrant of the temple mount. The temple itself was the largest structure in the Roman world, measuring 1,590 feet on the west, 1,035 feet on the north, 1,536 feet on the east, and 912 feet on the south, equal to thirty-five football fields in size and covering one-sixth the total area of Jerusalem itself. The need for sacrificial animals and birds, especially at Passover, was immense, and since priests had to certify their purity, people would naturally purchase them at the temple itself rather than walk them through the streets of the city and take the chance of their being rendered impure somehow. All the bargaining in the buying and selling plus the movement of the animals made a lot of noise.
The issue was not the exchange of money, nor was it selling sacrificial animals. The issue is WHERE it was taking place - in the temple.
NOTE: A gathering of God’s people for worship was never meant to be a commercial enterprise.
There are some great references back to the prophets which Jesus is quoting, and John even quotes another about zeal for the Lord’s temple consuming Jesus. I want to focus on a few things:
All 4 gospels record some form of this event.
Matthew refers to the temple as a house of prayer. However, there is more to that quote. Mark actually adds the context of that verse:
Mark 11:17 CSB
17 He was teaching them: “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves!”
First, there is the reference to the den of thieves. This is a reference to Jeremiah 7:11. However, I think it is very significant to notice that it is a house of prayer for ALL NATIONS.
This is the second OT hyperlink in our Matthew 21 passage that has mentioned the NATIONS.
The Messiah would bring peace to the nations.
The Temple is meant to be a place of prayer for all nations.
The Confrontation with the Religious
The third movement involves a confrontation with the religious leaders:
Matthew 21:14–17 CSB
14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that he did and the children shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus replied, “Yes, have you never read: You have prepared praise from the mouths of infants and nursing babies?” 17 Then he left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
These are the only healing events that Matthew records in Jerusalem. It is very specific: the blind and the lame. These are two people groups that were not allowed in the temple, and yet it is at the court of the Gentiles, in front of the temple that Jesus healed them.
First and foremost, this was a message to the crowds in Jerusalem that Jesus was the Messiah.
Second, it was a continued lesson that Jesus taught - that the meek will inherit the earth, and the last will be first in God’s kingdom. It continues with the next part about the children praising God for the things that have been done.
Several times Jesus has commented about how the kingdom belongs to children. Now, it is the children who see Jesus as the promised one, even though the religious leaders do not.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised Hosanna
Thus, the use of the familiar “hosanna” shouted to Jesus by pilgrims and children seems to indicate that for them every Jewish messianic expectation had now been fulfilled in Jesus.
Many believe that the origins of the Greek (NT) word “Hosanna” comes from two Hebrew words that would sound similar - a transliteration from Hebrew to Greek - hôšîʿâ (-n)nāʾ. It comes from the words “save us” and can be found in the verses that are being quoted in our passage:
Psalm 118:25–26 CSB
25 Lord, save us! Lord, please grant us success! 26 He who comes in the name of the Lord is blessed. From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The crowds in the street called this out. Then, after the healings in the temple, the children in the temple call out “save us!”.
NOTE: the blind and lame recognize Jesus as a man sent from God. The children recognize that Jesus is a man sent from God. While both might not understand completely, they see what he is doing and see God in it.
The religious leaders see the wondrous things Jesus is doing and the praise of the people, but they are jealous and angry - they are blind to Jesus and their faith is lame.
Jesus confronts them with scripture of course! The verse that Jesus referenced was bold! He asked the chief priests and scribes if they had heard about this Psalm:
Psalm 8:1–2 CSB
1 Lord, our Lord, how magnificent is your name throughout the earth! You have covered the heavens with your majesty. 2 From the mouths of infants and nursing babies, you have established a stronghold on account of your adversaries in order to silence the enemy and the avenger.
First, it declared Jesus to be on par with Yahweh. THAT will be a problem for the chief priests and scribes.
The Psalm states that the reason God established his stronghold and praise through children (and the helpless) is because of the adversaries. So… which group is Jesus implying the priests and scribes are? The enemy.
Jesus stole the crowds from the religious leaders, caused a major scene at the temple by kicking out the money changers AND he enraged the religious leaders by calling them enemies of God.
The polarization of those that follow and those that oppose has been evident throughout the gospel and it coming to a climax in this last week. The veil of Jesus’ identity has come off. There is no choice now except to make a choice = either you believe or you oppose.
This is true of everyone who has heard about the Son of God. You do choose and you must choose. To ignore is to reject or oppose. However, many of us have chosen to accept him.
My first question to you today is: “Who do you believe Jesus is?”
However, many of those that followed Jesus dis it for very earthly reasons. They wanted to be healed or freed from something - like Rome!
So my final question is: “Why do YOU turn to God? Why do YOU turn to Jesus?”
Do you want him to save you from the political oppressions of our day?
Do you want him to save you from a physical ailment that is plaguing you?
This is why many of the people were following “the prophet” Jesus. But that is NOT the ultimate purpose or goal is it?
Jesus came to save you and me from our sins, and the punishment we deserve for them. This was the announcement of the angel from the very beginning, when the angel told Joseph to marry Mary:
Matthew 1:21 CSB
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus IS the ONE sent from God to save people like you and me, if we will accept him as our Lord.
And it is also a reminder to you and me, as disciples, that the good news of redemption through Jesus is meant to be taken to all the nations, and his disciples (you and me) are the ones He wants to use to do that.