Jesus and his disciples, along with a crowd of pilgrims, are going to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Jesus asks two of his disciples to go and get the two donkeys. (Jesus rode only on the colt, as the other three gospels make clear. The mother would have followed her colt.)
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once." This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, "Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden." The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.
The scripture Matthew quotes is Zechariah 9:9, and would have been well known as a Messianic prophecy. By riding on a donkey's colt, Jesus was publicly announcing that he was the Messiah, and the crowds reacted accordingly. The only problem was that they misinterpreted slightly. In those days, a king rode a horse to war and a donkey to peace. So he was also saying that he came in peace, not to overthrow the Roman occupation, which is what the crowd hoped for.
Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, "Who is this?" And the crowds said, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee."
This action was a deliberate provocation to the religious leaders, who were already unhappy with Jesus. Throughout his ministry he had shown miraculous power and had confounded his questioners. Now he was making an open claim to be the Messiah, and the religious leaders could see their hold over the people slipping. They were also worried that this would rouse the Romans to crack down, and ruin the status quo that they had managed to establish. Even today, the idea that Jesus was the Messiah is received many different ways.
The first thing Jesus did, having attracted so much attention, was to go to the temple. There, in the outer court, he caused havoc.
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of robbers." And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant, and they said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise'?" And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
After a peaceful entry into Jerusalem, here is a very different Jesus, but still exhibiting qualities of the Messiah. God's temple should be treasured, and that it was being used for commerce and profit was bound to anger him. He quotes from two prophets:
For thus says the Lord: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."
Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!' – only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.
I have quoted these verses in full because they contain so much to explain Jesus' anger on his Father's behalf. Once again he is attacking the religious leaders, specifically for their allowing the temple to be profaned. And they were indignant, as the original passage in Matthew shows.
So Jesus, without actually saying it, announced very clearly that he was the Messiah, and the religious leaders understood that, and, refusing to accept it, determined to kill him.
If Jesus is king, what practical difference should this make to our lives? How can we show others where our allegiance lies and that we live by the values of the kingdom of God? Do we live by these values? Should we get angry when these values are ignored, and in what way?
[Based on Pantygwydr Baptist Church's Lent Studies]
Other posts in this series:
Jesus as Leader
Jesus as Divine
Jesus the Man
Jesus as Teacher
Jesus and Us
Jesus as Messiah
Jesus as Saviour
Jesus as Lord
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