Who is This?
The time of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, torment, crucifixion, and death will soon be upon him, but before his humiliation, Matthew provides Jesus’ disciples with one more reminder that he is King and Lord. At that point in his ministry, his royalty and reign were veiled, just as it is today, when the lordship of Jesus is often veiled. Matthew 21 reminds us that things are not always as they seem and that symbolic acts often provide profound insight into hidden truths.
Dan Doriani, in his commentary on Matthew, provides some examples of modern day symbolic acts providing insight to hidden truths.
“A few years ago after Ukraine separated itself from the Soviet Union and became a putative democracy, an autocratic ruler name Viktor Yanukovych emerged. When the time for democratic elections arrived, he simply changed the ballot count so that he ‘won,’ even though every poll, both before and after the election, showed that his rival Viktor Yushchenko captured far more votes. Huge crowds rallied in the capital. They showed solidarity, in part, by wearing orange ribbons. Ordinarily, an orange ribbon is simply a ribbon, but a ribbon can be part of a protest movement. A year later, the autocratic leader of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenka, apparently stole another election. Protest leaders then asked citizens to wear blue jeans to show solidarity with their movement. Ordinarily, blue jeans are casual clothes, but they too can be a symbol of protest.”
Among the crowds of Galilean pilgrims arriving on foot in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, Jesus chose to make a conspicuous entry on a donkey. Since we have no other record of Jesus riding, this must have been a deliberate act, meant to be noticed. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, it was, likewise, more than a donkey. It was a symbol. As Matthew makes clear by quoting the prophet Zechariah 9:9-10, it was an acted allusion to the prophecy of the coming of the Messianic King.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was certainly striking. He rode a donkey no one had previously ridden. According to custom, this was a hint that he was a king, since no one but a king could ride his mount. But a donkey? Kings and generals ride war horses to rain mighty blows on their foes. But no one rains down blows from a donkey. The disciples and the Galilean crowd recognized the allusion and turned the arrival into a triumphal procession. Their shouts in v9 made no secret of their belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, now coming to set up his reign in Israel’s capital.
The people of Jerusalem were, however, taken aback, and the whole city was stirred, not with enthusiasm but with concern: ‘Who is this?’
The provocative nature of Jesus’ arrival in the city was matched by his arrival in the temple area. This was a huge open space of some 33 acres, within which stood the temple itself and associated buildings. In the porticos surrounding this area (not in the temple building) were the stalls of those who changed money for the temple offerings and sold sacrificial animals. They were there with the permission of the priestly authorities and performed a useful, even necessary, function for pilgrims coming from a distance. But the whole thing had got out of proportion, and worship and prayer were being squeezed out by commercialism. Jesus’ violent onslaught on all concerned expressed his conviction that the temple was no longer fulfilling the purpose for which it had been built.
Onlookers who knew their Scriptures would have been reminded of Mal. 3:1-4 and of Zechariah 14:21. The Messiah was purifying the people’s worship in readiness for the great day of the Lord. And to make matters worse, Jesus justified the cries of the children who hailed him as Son of David by quoting Psalm 8:2, which is about the praise of God!
Who is this? That is the question this text is raising. And that is the question we will answer this Palm Sunday. Who do you say he is? This would be a wonderful time to bring a guest along with you.
For His Glory,