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Matthew

Enter The King

Matthew 21:1-22

Lesson audio

We come now to the last week in Christ’s earthly ministry – the week which culminates in the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. It is the most studied, most written over week in history. We shall do our best to add nothing to the accounts while adding something to your understanding.

Triumphal Entry

Mat 21:1-11 NASB When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, 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. (3) "If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." (4) This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: (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.'" (6) The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, (7) and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. (8) Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. (9) The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!" (10) When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, "Who is this?" (11) And the crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee."

As prophesied

One of the main themes we shall see in the study of this week is the fulfillment of prophecy. The matter is shown here in these three instances:

  • He comes in riding on a donkey’s colt.[1] The donkey or mule, when ridden by a king, symbolizes that he comes in peace; the horse is for war.
  • The “hosanna” here – the word can be translated “save now” – comes from the prophetic Psalms.[2]
  • The palm branch – is a symbolic reference to the “Branch of Jesse.” Jesse is David’s father, and it is prophesied that the Branch would come as Messiah.[3]

The first of these prophecies is a mystery from the Old Testament; the second is a borrowing of the prophetic literature; the third is a connection to prophecy. All three are validly considered as prophecy; but we should be aware that not all prophecy is as explicit as the first.

Coming as

The nature of Christ’s first coming is completed in this scene. His humble birth and backwoods upbringing started Him into this, but in this scene we see Him as He presents Himself to the Jewish nation:

  • He presents Himself as King – the King of the Jews; prophetically, the king over all God’s people.
  • He is hailed as Savior (“Hosanna”). It is most likely that at this time the crowd saw Him as being a revolutionary leader against the Romans, but the phrase is still correct.
  • He is known as the “prophet from Nazareth.” Indeed, he is the prophet that Moses spoke of who was to come.[4]
  • He is the Creator – for whom else would the rocks cry out? (This is found in the parallel accounts).
  • Most of all, He is coming as our sacrifice. He knows what will happen; He knows that it must.
Praised

One of the great contradictions of the modern evangelical church is that of praise. Americans inherently resist praising anyone for who he is; we will praise what he has done. Especially after he has just done it. But in this instance praise is for who He is. Prophecy is for action; praise deals with God’s essence, His existence. See how praise takes these forms:

  • It acknowledges his character as the one who can save – thus linking Christ directly with the Father’s character.
  • It proclaims Him blessed by God, and therefore worthy of praise.
  • It proclaims Him as Son of David, and thus the one prophesied.

Character, blessing and fulfillment of prophecy – these are the elements of praise seen here.

Cleansing the Temple

Mat 21:12-16 NASB And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. (13) And He *said to them, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN." (14) And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. (15) But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became indignant (16) and said to Him, "Do You hear what these children 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 FOR YOURSELF'?"

The trade

It’s useful to us to review just what was going on. Christ had cleared the temple three years earlier at the beginning of His ministry. Evidently it didn’t take the priests too long to return to business as usual. There were two primary activities here:

  • One was the selling of doves. A pair of doves was the sacrifice of a poor man. These doves had to be unblemished; evidently the ones brought by the poor man were usually not good enough. So the family members of the priests households would sell doves which were pre-approved! The pious poor man was swindled in this way.
  • The other was in money changing. The Old Testament specified offerings in terms of Jewish coinage; the Romans insisted on the use of Roman and Greek coins as a blessing to commerce. Therefore, your offerings had to be exchanged into sanctuary shekels – at a magnificent rate. It seems also that for those who didn’t have the cash, a loan could be made. Instead of interest, the rate of exchange was even higher – thus avoiding the Old Testament prohibition of usury.

These people were, in short, selling the benefits of the sacrifices commanded by God – and making a bundle off of it. Religion, to them, was a profitable racket. You might think this an ancient example, but it persists today. (Look up “prayer cloth” on the Internet.) It is one thing to recover expenses for publications (done that) but another to hawk a cruise to Alaska.[5] It is a temptation down to the modern day; I suspect as the fire of faith dims, the pleasure of profit grows.

Temple as forerunner

One of the consistent methods of interpreting Scripture is the idea that things in the Old Testament foreshadowed things of the church. There are three ways we can see that in the Temple:

  • We hold that our own church buildings are holy. Remember, holy means “set aside for God.” This meaning is often stretched a bit; we have a chorus of barber shop quartets practicing in our sanctuary. This type of use is not as common as in my youth, when churches looked upon their facilities as available for the public good. So we see that maintaining the good name of Jesus may result in what otherwise appears odd.
  • The Temple is referred to as the “house of God” – in which we would see the church today. So in purging the Temple Christ sets an example for us which would seem to promote church discipline.
  • The Temple is also the forerunner of the “temple of the Holy Spirit” – the body of the Christian. So it is that Paul complains to the Corinthians about their use of prostitutes. Its purity is also our concern.[6]
The day of wrath

One of the solid answers to the dilemma of evil (God is all powerful, and good – why is there evil in the world?) is the Day of Wrath. Portrayed in both the Old and New Testaments, it tells us that God is not finished with us yet. He continues to give us grace so that all would have the chance to repent. We have seen that prophecy fulfilled is cause for praise; this one, too.

Out of the mouths of babes[7]

Consider what is said, not who said it. May I repeat something to you?

He is gone now, but I remember Curly as one of my heroes. In a time where Christianity was officially barred on campus (a state university) he sat at the crossroads and called out, “Jesus loves you.” How did he get away with such a heinous violation of church and state? Perhaps the fact that he was in a wheelchair, the victim of a stroke, with boils all over his body may have had something to do with it. Can you picture yourself the university policeman who busts a paraplegic stroke victim for saying, “Jesus loves you?”

The Fig Tree

Mat 21:17-22 NASB And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. (18) Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. (19) Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered. (20) Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, "How did the fig tree wither all at once?" (21) And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen. (22) "And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."

The fig tree in question is much debated in commentaries. It is sufficient to say that there are certain fig trees which do produce fruit this early in the season. One might also note that the fig tree was “by the road” – which made it a public resource, not private property.

For the benefit of the disciples

We must remember that Christ is teaching His disciples by example:

  • First, that the faith is not all honey; His teaching includes some things that are not at all sweet, but stern.
  • Second, that prayer has power – even when not applied to the sweet and the light. Destruction comes by prayer as well.
  • We often try to claim this promise for our own benefit – it is well to note the example is one of causing destruction. Have we the fire to pray for the collapse of Islam?
The symbol of Israel

The passage is also well understood in terms of the symbols involved. You must remember that the fig tree is a frequent Old Testament metaphor for Israel. From this we may see what Christ’s condemnation of the fig tree meant:

  • It is a condemnation of the hypocrisy of Israel. Like this fig tree, they are all leaves and no fruit.
  • The condemnation is effective; since this time Judaism has been hereditary, but not evangelistic.
  • Worse, the state of Israel was destroyed soon after, as Christ prophesies elsewhere. Since then until 1947 (the “time of the Gentiles,” perhaps?) the Jew has wandered the earth.
The nature of prayer

We see it here in the negative sense, but this passage brings up a serious problem for most Christians. I prayed; I believed; nothing happened. The usual response is to say that any prayer outside God’s will is denied. But that misses the point: why is the prayer of the American church so ineffectual? You have but to read the biographies of saints of the nineteenth century to know that it was not always so. So I ask you: why is prayer so commonly unanswered?


[1] Zechariah 9:9

[2] Psalm 118:25-26

[3] Jeremiah 23:5

[4] Deuteronomy 18:15

[5] Which happened once in our congregation, and has not been repeated.

[6] One must dissent from the current interpretation, which is that it is a requirement that Christians eat none but organic foods and join a health club.

[7] Psalm 8:2. The quotation is not exact; Christ in fact gives specific meaning to it.

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