The Coming King (Matthew 21:1-11)
This is a quite “different” text from others we have seen. We have three prophecies fulfilled in this passage, rather than just one. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (v 5); Matthew quotes two prophecies and merges them into one citation. The multitudes cry out, “Hosanna!” (v 9). Because we have three prophecies fulfilled in this text, we will explore the text in Matthew and go back to the Old Testament when we have prophecies.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is quite significant. As we will see, Jesus did not enter Jerusalem in just any manner. But, He entered in a way that demonstrated conclusively He could be none other than the Messiah.
Jesus and His disciples came near Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives (v 1). Bethphage lay on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives. Even the fact that Jesus came here as He was preparing to die has Messianic undertones (Zech 14:4).
Jesus instructed two of His disciples to go into the village and bring a donkey and her colt to Him. Did you ever wonder who owned these animals? The owner seems to have had some knowledge of Jesus’ identity (v 3). Perhaps the owner had never met Jesus, but he was devout and had a dream (like Joseph or the wise men) and he was obedient to the dream. Unless you were wealthy, you typically walked everywhere you went in first century Palestine.
This is the only occurrence we have of Jesus’ riding on an animal. Kings, however, rode on animals: 1 Kings 1:38-40. As Solomon, the son of King David, rode to Jerusalem on a mule, Jesus, the Son of God, is riding to Jerusalem on a donkey. While there is no direct prophecy, it does seem quite clear that Jesus’ act is an allusion back to the Old Testament.
Verse 3 is the only place in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus uses “Lord” of Himself. The term could be a polite address, but in Jesus’ time was often used as a title of authority. In fact, the term often referred to Yahweh. Jesus does seem to be identifying Himself here with God—this is an affirmation of Jesus’ deity.
That Jesus sends two disciples to bring this donkey to Him shows that what is about to occur is no accident. Jesus is making preparation for His coming crucifixion. What might Jesus’ preparation here teach us? Some ideas:
Jesus’ death was no accident.
Jesus died as part of God’s plan. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8).
We need to make preparation.
Jesus rode a donkey to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet (vv 4-5). Matthew does not quote one prophet here, but he quotes from two. Isaiah 62:11; Zechariah 9:9.
“Indeed the Lord has proclaimed To the end of the world: ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Surely your salvation is coming; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him”‘” (Is 62:11).
Isaiah 62 certainly seems to prophesy of the time of the Messiah. Notice the Messianic undertones of verses 1-5. It certainly seems to me that Isaiah spoke only of Jesus in these verses.
Why refer to Jerusalem as Zion? 2 Samuel 5:7. In this case, the significance seems to be to be reminiscent of David.
Isaiah says that salvation is coming; Matthew says “your King” is coming.” Zechariah says, “Your King is coming.” But, why would Matthew use Zechariah’s wording instead of Isaiah’s? What is the significance of the different wording?
“His reward is with Him,” Isaiah says. How was Jesus’ reward with Him? How did reward come from the horrible events in Jerusalem? How was Jesus’ work before Him?
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). The wording at the beginning of this text is much like that in Isaiah 62:11. We find these words in the midst of a lengthy section discussing judgment on Israel’s enemies. God was going to “visit” those other nations in judgment; He was going to visit Israel with salvation.
Zechariah says that Israel’s King is just and has salvation. How is Jesus “just”? How does He have salvation?
He is lowly and riding on a donkey. The use of a donkey is important. Rulers in Israel rode donkeys in times of peace (Judg 5:10; 1 Ki 1:33). Warriors rode on horses. Thus, this is a sign that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
The donkey also signifies humility. Jesus comes to Jerusalem “lowly.” How did Jesus demonstrate humility in the events about to happen?
The two disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. We don’t read of any “bellyaching” here. Is that not a wonderful example for us? Are we sometimes guilty of wanting to obey later or not full obeying, etc.?
The disciples laid their clothes on the donkey and her colt. Why would the disciples lay their garments on these animals? It should be pointed out that the “them” of verse 7 is the garments, not the donkey and colt.
A very great multitude came out. Word spread very quickly that Jesus was coming. We do not know how word spread so quickly. Did someone simply see Jesus? Did a couple of disciples go tell the pilgrims what’s about to take place?
The interesting thing is that Jesus does not attempt to stop this. Before this, Jesus avoided the Jewish hierarchy. He had warned those He healed not to make Him known (Matt 12:16). At other times, He would slip right through the hands of the Jewish leaders (cf. Jn 8:59). Why this change?
The text makes clear that the people believe Jesus is the King of the Jews. They spread their cloaks on the ground (2 Kings 9:13). They cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the ground. The use of palm branches seems to indicate a spirit of thanksgiving. Palm branches were used in the Intertestamental Period to indicate a giving of thanks.
Multitudes are going before and after Jesus shouting praise. Apparently, word of Jesus’ coming had preceded Him, and the people came out to meet Him. The Passover is at hand. Jesus, being an obedient Jew, is going to Jerusalem for the Feast. It’s really not a surprise; therefore, that we find that people knew Jesus was coming to town. John also tells us about Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem during previous visits He has made. Therefore, the people of Jerusalem have heard Jesus and know about Him. While this may be the most dramatic way Jesus ever entered Jerusalem, this is not His first visit there.
Jerusalem sat on about 300 acres. The population was normally somewhere between 200,000 to 250,000. However, at the Feasts, the population would swell to about 3,000,000. Therefore, many, many people had the opportunity to hear and to see Jesus.
The people praise Jesus using the words of Psalm 118:25-26. The Psalm is one of thanksgiving to God for deliverance from one’s enemies. It is a lengthy psalm (29 verses), but I want us to read the entire text to get an idea of the context. Notice the idea of God’s everlasting mercy (vv 2-4). Notice the idea of God’s answering when one is in distress (vv 5-14). God’s salvation leads to rejoicing (vv 15-18). God’s salvation leads to praise (vv 19-21). There is a recognition that God, not man, has acted (vv 22-24). The end of the Psalm mixes salvation and blessing/praise (vv 25-29).
Psalms 113-118 were used at the three main Jewish Feasts. It’s not surprising; therefore, that the Jews immediately begin to use the wording of this text. “Hosanna” transliterates the Hebrew word for “Save us now!” Some examples from the Old Testament: 2 Samuel 14:4 and 2 Kings 6:26. “Hosanna” had become an acclamation through its usage (cf. Rev 7:10).
How does Jesus save? How do you think the Jews saw His salvation? I wonder if they have any sort of inkling about real salvation. Instead, I think they want to be saved from sickness or from the Romans, etc.
“Son of David” is, of course, a Messianic title. This title would point to the kingly role of the Messiah. What is the “kingly role” of the Messiah? The title would also point to the Messiah as a descendant of David. Why was it important that the Messiah be a descendant of David? “Hosanna in the highest” likely means something like “Glory to God in the highest.”
The city was moved and asked, “Who is this?” The multitudes answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.” Most people who knew about Jesus described Him as a “prophet” (cf. Matt 16:14; 21:46). While this could allude back to Moses’ statement (Deut 18:15-16), for most people this would have been quite distinct from being the Messiah.
Jesus probably entered the city through the sheep gate. This was the closest gate to the temple. Therefore, that’s the gate that Jews used to bring sheep into the city for sacrifice. Jesus’ entry stirred up all of Jerusalem. How are the Romans going to react to this Person?