(Mt 21.1-17; Mk 11.1-19; Lk 19.28-48; Jn 12.12-19)
Three subjects will be considered: first, the purpose of the Lords entry to Jerusalem; second, the Messianic promises contained in the text; and third, practical lessons for believers.
The Lords triumphant entry into Jerusalem was a suitable climax to His ministry, which largely consisted of preaching, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt 4.17). In view of early opposition (Mt 11.12,16-19; 12.1-14), the prophetic character of Messiah "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street" (Is 42.2) and the divine timetable (Dan 9.25), the Lord Jesus had previously discouraged all public recognition of His Messiahship (Mt 16.20; Mk 9.9). He even thwarted an enthusiastic, though premature, attempt to crown Him (Jn 6.15). Finally, however, Jerusalems day of opportunity and "time of thy visitation" (Lk 19.42, 44), according to Daniels prediction, had arrived. "From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem [Neh 2.1-6 14: March, 445BC] unto the Messiah the Prince [6 April, AD32] shall be seven weeks, and three score and two weeks [483 years, or 173,880 days]" (Dan 9.25).1 And so, by riding on a colt into Jerusalem on the appointed day, the Lord Jesus publicly and unambiguously presented Himself as Israels Messiah, thus demanding national recognition. The multitudes at hand consisted of those who followed Him (Lk 19.3), many (possibly over two million2) preparing for the Passover feast (Jn 12.12), and others present because of Lazarus resurrection (Jn 12.17,18). This ensured that a significant representation of the whole nation was available to give their collective decision. Sadly, instead of rejoicing in their Messiah (Zech 9.9), the religious leadership were "sore displeased" (Mt 21.15), were filled with fear (Mk 11.18), envied His popularity (Mk 15.10; Jn 12.19), called for Him to rebuke His disciples (Lk 19.39), and sought to destroy Him (Mk 11.18; Lk 19.47). Calvary was their answer.
The places mentioned in the narrative carried Messianic connotations. After centuries of relentless idolatry, Gods glory departed eastward from Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives (Ezek 11.23). On this same mountain Messiah will stand at His glorious advent, splitting it in two, and creating an escape route for the besieged inhabitants of Jerusalem (Zech 14.3-5). Therefore, how appropriate for Gods glory, in Christ, to return via the Mount of Olives (Lk 19.28,29) to Mount Zion (a poetic description of Jerusalem), from whence He shall reign (Ps 2.6)! The name Bethphage ("house of unripe figs") summed up Israels spiritual condition: as the fig tree appeared full of promise, but was fruitless on closer inspection (Mt 21.19), so the nation bore little fruit for God.
Each action performed by the Lord underlined His Messianic claims. Zechariah predicted Messiah to be "just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech 9.9). His coming to Zion would produce rejoicing, and result in a universal dominion of peace (Zech 9.10). As with other Old Testament prophets who sought "what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (1 Pet 1.11), Zechariah ran together, without clear distinction, the two comings of Christ. By riding into Jerusalem on a colt the Lord Jesus showed Himself to be:
"When he was come near, he beheld the city [Jerusalem], and wept over it" (Lk 19.41), because of its failure to grasp "the way that leads to peace" (v.42, NEB) and appreciate the tremendous significance of Christs entry it was "the time of [Jerusalems] visitation" (Lk 19.44). Their ignorance was in part due to judicial blinding (Lk 19.42; Jn 12.37-40), and inevitably led to their rejection of the Lord, and ultimately the Roman destruction of the city in AD70 (Lk 19.43,44), centuries of intense persecution, and the final terrors of the Great Tribulation. Knowing all of this, the Man of Sorrows wept for them.
The practical and verbal adulation of the crowds was full of Messianic implications. By spreading garments and branches in the way they welcomed the Lord as a worthy Monarch. "Branches of palm trees" (Jn 12.13) were specifically related to the feast of tabernacles (Lev 23.33-43), which will be prominent during the kingdom era. They cried out: "Hosanna (save now) to the Son of David" (Mt 21.9); "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Mt 21.9); "Hosanna in the highest" (Mt 21.9); "Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Mk 11.10); "Blessed be the King [of Israel] that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Lk 19.38; Jn 12.13); "peace in heaven, and glory in the highest" (Lk 19.38). Their worship was stimulated by "all the mighty works that they had seen" (Lk 19.37), and unmistakably identified the Lord Jesus as Israels Messiah. The Lords refusal to silence such clear expressions of His Messiahship, explaining that "if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (Lk 19.40), proves that His intention was a public declaration of Himself as Israels King. "It was hereafter never possible to say that He had never declared Himself in a wholly unequivocal manner."3
The temple episode saw "for a brief season the Jewish temple [become] a theocratic residence of the Messianic King."4 Everything that transpired looked back to Old Testament prophecy, and forward, with eager expectancy, to the establishment of the kingdom. "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple" (Mal 3.1), with irresistible power (Mal 3.2), "to purify the sons of Levi" (Mal 3.3). The Lord Jesus, by "[casting] out all them that sold and bought in the temple" (Mt 21.12), and stopping others from using it as a convenient short cut (Mk 11.16), cleansed it. No-one resisted Him, for "who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth" (Mal 3.2)? When "the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God" is manifest, debilitating illnesses will be a thing of the past (Is 35). In anticipation the Saviour healed the blind and lame in the temple (Mt 21.14). Throughout the millennium, Gods King will be universally adored (Zech 14.16), and so the children praised Him (Mt 21.15). Just as "in the last days out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Is 2.2-3), the Lord Jesus Christ "taught daily in the temple" (Lk 19.47), and "all the people hung on him to hear" (Lk 19.48, JND) His astonishing doctrine (Mk 11.18).
Practical lessons abound in this portion of Scripture. Israels unparalleled opportunity to receive Christ, their superficial acknowledgement of Him for a time, and their eventual rejection of Him, stand out as a solemn warning to the hardness of human hearts. "The disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them" (Mt 21.6). Such implicit obedience should mark all Christians. Although the disciples did not initially understand the importance of events, later they examined everything in the light of Scripture (Jn 12.16) a stimulus for believers to "Prove all things" (1 Thess 5.21). Crowds are fickle and we should not trust them. Even though they praised the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, and it appeared as though "the world [had] gone after him" (Jn 12.19), a few days later they cried out for His blood: "Away with him, away with him, crucify him" (Jn 19.15). The words of the multitudes were based on Psalm 118 and the Lord Jesus defended the childrens praise with: "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise" (Mt 21.16). The best worship is out of child-like hearts well grounded in Holy Scripture. Gods house had become "a den of thieves" (Mt 21.13) and a thoroughfare (Mk 11.16). God forbid that local churches be characterised by covetousness or mere convenience. They should instead "be called the house of prayer" (Mt 21.13). Just as the people were "astonished at his doctrine" (Mk 11.18) and were "very attentive to hear him" (Lk 19.48), let us never fail to wonder at, and hang wholeheartedly upon the Saviours words.
1 Anderson R. The Coming Prince. P121, 127, 128
2 Maier P L. Josephus, The Essential Works. P376
3 McClain A J. The Greatness of the Kingdom. P350
4 McClain A J. The Greatness of the Kingdom. P352