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1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
10When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13“It is written,” He said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”
14The blind and the lame came to Him at the temple, and He healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
16“Do You hear what these children are saying?” they asked Him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”
17And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where He spent the night.
Earlier, Jesus had told His disciples: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will turn Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day He will be raised to life!” (Matt. 20:18–19). So, one wonders, as here “they approached Jerusalem”, if the disciples were filled with a sense of dread. Or were they paying attention to their Lord? We tend only to hear what we want to hear from our Lord’s Word. We must endeavor to heed it all.
As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus had instructions for the disciples: “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away” (vs. 2). This was unusual, and must have been somewhat surprising to the disciples, that Jesus, who (from all we know) went on foot everywhere, desired a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. But Jesus had a purpose, and His purpose was to be declared, as He entered Jerusalem, the King that He is. This ride into Jerusalem would fulfill prophecy: “This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”’” (vs. 4). “Therefore when His journey to heaven was near, He wished to inaugurate His Kingdom openly on earth” [Calvin, 291]. “Our Lord Jesus traveled much, and His custom was to travel on foot from Galilee to Jerusalem, some scores of miles, which was both humbling and toilsome. Yet once in His life, He rode in triumph; and it was now when He went into Jerusalem, to suffer and die, as if that were the pleasure and preferment He courted” [Henry].
Yet, though Jesus did not walk into Jerusalem, He also “did not come on a chariot or on a war horse, but riding as rulers did in time of peace” [Broadus, 425]. “He was, as a King, all gentleness and mercy” [Spurgeon, 289]. “Therefore for those with eyes to see, Jesus was not only proclaiming His messiahship and His fulfillment of Scripture but showing the kind of peace-loving approach He was now making to the city” [Carson, 437].
“The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’, ‘Hosanna in the highest!’” (vss. 6–9). Previous to this, Jesus discouraged public declaration of His being the Messiah or any type of King (see Matt. 16:20; et. al.). Presumably, He did this to avoid confrontation with various political factions, Jewish and Roman. But the time had now come for Jesus to declare Himself as the King that He is. Given that the Passover was soon, there was a large crowd in Jerusalem. Many of them saw Jesus’ work and heard His teachings, and believed in Him as their Messiah and King. They did what they could—spreading their cloaks and branches on the road before Him—to give Him a King’s welcome, as they yelled shouts of praise to Him. Their shouts of praise were foreordained, prophesied in the Psalms (see Ps. 118:25–26). “Matthew deliberately recites the Hebrew words, so that we may know that the praises and prayers which the disciples were crying out were not given thoughtlessly to Christ, nor poured out without deliberation, but reverently followed a set form of prayer which the Holy Spirit had dictated to the whole Church by the mouth of the prophet” [Calvin, 293].
The praises of the crowd stirred up the whole city of Jerusalem. There were some in the city, though, who did not know Jesus: “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee’” (vss. 10–11). The question they asked, “Who is Jesus?”, is the most important question anyone could ask. “‘Who is this?’ is a proper, profitable, personal, pressing question. Let our reader make this inquiry concerning Jesus, and never rest till he knows the answer” [Spurgeon, 291].
In Jerusalem, Jesus visited the temple: “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” (vs. 12). “When Christ came into Jerusalem, He did not go up to the court or the palace, though He came in as a King, but into the temple; for His kingdom is spiritual, and not of this world; it is in holy things that He rules, in the temple of God that He exercises authority” [Henry].
Jesus gave a reason for His actions: “‘It is written,’ He said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it a “den of robbers”’” (vs. 13). In the temple, to accommodate the large crowd of visitors, there were “money changers” (who exchanged foreign money that would be used to pay the temple tax), and “benches of those selling doves” (who would sell to the visitors animals for sacrifice). Apparently, these tradesmen were corrupt (Jesus called them “a den of robbers”), taking advantage of the travelers who desired to worship God in the proper way. “The traders had put profit above worship. And when Jesus speaks of ‘a robbers’ den’, He indicates not only that they were trading in the wrong place, but that they were trading dishonestly” [Morris, 528]. Also, the clamor caused by the buying and selling made it impossible for the temple to be “a house of prayer.”
This is the second time that Jesus had cleared the temple of merchants. He had done so before at the beginning of His ministry (see John 2:14–15), but sadly, He had to do so again. “Note, buyers and sellers driven out of the temple, will return and nestle there again, if there be not a continual care and oversight to prevent it, and if the blow be not followed, and often repeated” [Henry]. And even today, those whose primary interest is in making money find their way into the house of God. They should not be supported; their actions must not be condoned. Oh, Lord Jesus, drive them out of Your house!
Jesus took time to serve the people who were in need at the temple: “The blind and the lame came to Him at the temple, and He healed them” (vs. 14). Ironically, these miracles and good works of Jesus, rather than causing the religious authorities to honor Jesus, caused them to want to criticize Jesus, presumably to bring Him down in the eyes of the crowd: “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant. ‘Do You hear what these children are saying?’ they asked Him” (vss. 15–16). The religious authorities could not, in good conscience, criticize Jesus for clearing the temple (for they knew that the commerce carried on there was wrong); nor could they criticize Jesus for healing the blind and the lame. So they chose to criticize Jesus for accepting the praise of children. “It is not without its interest that they picked on the easiest target they could find—little children. They had no criticism of the unholy traders who defiled the sacred places, but they objected to the praises of children.” [Morris, 529].
It is interesting and instructive that the children were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”. The children had picked up on the chant that they heard the adults shouting to Jesus upon His entry into the city. This teaches us adults of the importance of a good example in what we do in front of children. “Children will learn of those that are with them, either to curse and swear, or to pray and praise” [Henry].
Note well Jesus’ response to the criticism: “‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise”?’” (vs. 16). Jesus cites Psalm 8:2, in which David refers to the praises of God coming from the lips of children. Jesus here, by accepting the praise of children, is declaring Himself to be God, for only God is worthy of such praise. “Jesus is therefore not only acknowledging His messiahship but justifying the praise of the children by applying to Himself a passage of Scripture applicable only to God” [Carson, 443].