The Triumphal Entry was an episode in the ministry of the Lord that had a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning was when the disciples came back to the Lord with the donkey and colt, placed their garments on them, and seated the Lord there (Matt. 21:6). The way they obtained the donkey appears to have been another royal act, meaning that the donkey was apparently commandeered. The middle of this event was when Jesus entered the city, and Matthew says that the whole city was moved (v. 10). So this middle was the procession itself. And then the culmination of this Entry, the climax of the day, the crowning event of what happened, was the cleansing of the Temple (v. 12).
“And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there” (Matthew 21:8–17).
Summary of the Text
As I have reminded you often, this great multitude was not the same crowd that was calling for the Lord’s crucifixion just a short time later. They spread garments and palm branches in the road for Him (v. 8). Now the crowd ahead of Jesus, and coming up behind, were all crying out for the Son of David to save them, which is what Hosanna means (v. 9)—or perhaps “Oh, Lord, save the Son of David.” They were also saying, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord (Ps. 118:26), and “Hosanna in the highest.” This was a biblically literate crowd. When He entered the gates, the whole city was shaken. Who is this (v. 10)? The crowd answered that it was “Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” (v. 11). And then we come to the climax of the Entry. Jesus entered into the Temple, expelled all the buyers and sellers, flipped the currency exchange tables, along with the chairs of those who sold doves (v. 12). He said they had transformed the house of prayer for all nations into a thieves’ kitchen (v. 13). Then, in an often overlooked touch, some blind and lame people came, and He healed them (v. 14). When the chief priests and scribes saw all the wonderful things He did, and the children who were still calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were really displeased (v. 15). They sought to rebuke Jesus with the words of the children (v. 16), and Jesus answered them with the psalmist (Ps. 8:2). From there, Jesus returned to Bethany, which was just a few miles away (v. 17).
The Nature of the Event
Moderns are often misled by the fact that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. This seems to us the sort of mount that a pacifist would use. But throughout the Old Testament, it was a mount of nobility or royalty. Deborah spoke of it (Judg. 5:10), Jair, a judge in Israel, had 30 sons who rode on 30 donkeys (Judg. 4), and Abdon was similar, with his sons and grandsons riding them (Judg. 12:14), and the princes of Israel, David’s sons, fled from Absalom on mules (2 Sam. 13:29). In addition to that, when Absalom fled at the end of his life, he was riding a mule (2 Sam. 18:9).
And when David appointed Solomon as king before David died, one of the ways he did it was through having Solomon ride on David’s royal mule.
“The king also said unto them, Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule, and bring him down to Gihon.”
1 Kings 1:33 (KJV)
So we don’t think of great regal power when we think of mules and donkeys. But then again, if the ancients were to look at our bald eagle, what they might see is carrion fowl, a really good-looking buzzard.
At the same time, one of the meanings the donkey was meant to convey was that of a humble royal power. Note Zechariah’s use of the word lowly.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; Lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”
Zechariah 9:9 (KJV)
Given this symbolism, and the prophecies concerning it, and what the people were shouting, Jesus was making an audacious claim to the be the King of Israel, the Messiah of God. But these were not just words—it moved on to an authoritative action, one that challenged the economic center of Jerusalem. He entered the city in order to force a showdown.
An Authoritative Evaluation
The gospel of John tells us that Jesus had cleansed the Temple once before, at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-17). This was an event that declared that the House of God was diseased. Here in Matthew, the priest has now come a second time to inspect the House, and this time the house is to be dismantled (Lev. 14:44), not one stone left upon another.
To change the image, after the first inspection, it was as though the owner of the vineyard had asked “why cumbereth it the ground” (Luke 13:6-9)? And the keeper of the vineyard interceded, and got a stay of execution for one more year. After that, go ahead and cut it down.
Lord and Christ
If we are with the crowds of Palm Sunday, we are crying out, “Hosanna,” which means that we are calling for God to save us. That is our plea—Lord, save us.
But, although this is used as a term of praise, it is not like Hallelujah, which simply means God be praised. Hosanna contains a petition within it, and the petition is for salvation, forgiveness, and deliverance. “Oh, Lord, hosanna, save us.” But from what?
Ultimately, this request is always for God to rescue us from ourselves. We are the ones with the problem, but it is also the case that we are the problem. We are the problem that all of us have. We are the gum on our own shoe. We are the problem that none of seem able to shake.
But so here is the difficulty. It is not possible to greet Him at the gates of the city with your palm branch, and then somehow to prevent Him from going up to the Temple and flipping over all of your tables. He is the Savior who interferes. He is the Lord Christ, and cannot be received in one of His offices and not in another.
To worship the Lord, as we are doing here in worship this morning, is the equivalent of greeting Him at the city gates, palm branch in hand. But do you have a booth up at the Temple, one that you were hoping that He would leave alone? To welcome Him into the city at all is to welcome Him to do whatever it is He is going to do there.
He is the true Son of David. Receive Him as such.
Great points. Another thing often overlooked is that the donkey hadn’t been ridden before. This means it wasn’t broken.
Apparently a donkey needs to be broken/trained like a horse, otherwise it’s just going to stubbornly stand there.
Not sure what this means exactly, but it’s something.
Hosanna! How many times have I prayed to the Lord to save me from myself? Don’t we all need some of His personal table-flipping in our lives to lead to repentance, healing, and sanctification? Thank you for another thought provoking post.
I was listening to a sermon on the meaning of Hosanna. The pastor said that it is good for your kids to see you call out Hosanna to the Lord with real concerns and with real faith.