Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus riding donkey as crowd waves palms

 "Jesus riding donkey as crowd waves palms." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


The parallel accounts are found in Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-40 and John 12:12-19. These ought to be read first. For a study on this pericope in Luke look at the exegetical notes for Advent II Series C.

Hendricksen: On reasonable grounds it may be assumed that Bethany, the home of Simon the leper, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, was reached before sunset on Friday; that on the Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) Jesus enjoyed the sabbath-rest with His friends; that on Saturday evening a supper was given in His honor; and that the next day, being Sunday, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem occurred.

Matthew 21:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,

Where is this town? It is mentioned nowhere else in the Old or New Testament, and there is not trace of it now. Medieval tradition places it about halfway between Bethany and Jerusalem. Bethany can still be seen on the east side of the Mount of Olives.

Who the two disciples were, we do not know.

Matthew 21:2 saying 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.

This is our first indication of Jesus' omniscience and omnipotence. He knew precisely what would happen and was graciously ruling the entire matter.

Matthew 21:3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."

Jesus foreknew what would happen.

Lenski:We draw the obvious conclusion that these owners were very good friends of Jesus and His disciples, but that can't be proved.

Inasmuch as Jesus foreknew and if these were friends, would Jesus have said "anyone?"

"The Lord" is the correct translation. LB, TEV, JB and NEB wrongly have: "The Master." We mention this because the IB, like others, says: "The Lord may be Jesus, but the evangelists seldom use this designation and Jesus does not use it of himself." Hendricksen rightly says:

Hendricksen: Note especially that Jesus is here using the title "Lord" to designate himself, see Matthew 11:27; 28:18.
Fahling: The Lord in the same sense as used of Christ in the gospels and elsewhere. Matthew 8:25.

What lies at the bottom of the refusal to translate o kurios as "the Lord" is higher criticism which claims that Jesus got His title from the early Christian Church.

Implicit in "has need of them" is the divinity of Jesus. He owns them in the first place, and therefore, can speak thus. Again, Jesus knew precisely what would happen.

Matthew 21:4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

Note that the fulfillment of a Messianic Prophecy is mentioned before the event itself, verses 6 and 7. The disciples did not realize this until after Jesus' resurrection, John 12:16. The point is: Jesus was consciously fulfilling prophecy as at Luke 4:21.

"Spoken through the prophet" is an expression found frequently in Matthew. God is the agent. The prophet was moved by the Holy Ghost to record it. The inspiration of the Old Testament is implicit in this verse.

Matthew 21:5 "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.'"

The first line is quoted from Isaiah 62:11. Good commentators, including Lutherans, say this line refers only to the believers in Jerusalem.

Hengstenberg: The prophet has in his mind only the better portion of the covenant nation, the true members of the people of God, not all Israel according to the flesh.
Kiel-Delitzsch: (Commenting on Zechariah 9:9) The Lord calls upon the daughter of Zion, i.e. the personified population of Jerusalem as a representative of the nation of Israel, namely the believing members of the covenant nation to rejoice.

"See" alerts them to something important. Something like "look here".

Hengstenberg: (Commenting on 'King') He who alone is your king, in the full and highest sense of the world, and in comparison with whom no other deserves the name.
Lenski: 'Your King' by his very birth as the Son of David, 2 Samuel 7:12 etc.; Psalm 110:1-2; Romans 1:3.
Ylvisaker: The kings of earth conquer by oppression. Jesus shall be victorious while He would seem to surrender.
Luther: He is a peculiar King: you do not seek him, he seeks you; you do not find him, he finds you; for the preachers come from him not from you; their preaching come from him not from you; your faith comes from him not from you; and all that you faith works in you comes from him not from you.

"Humble" means He made Himself of no reputation. Look at the use of this word in Matthew 11:29. The incarnate Christ is lowly so that no burdened sinner is driven away.

Hengstenberg: 'Humble' embraces the whole of the lowly, sorrowing, suffering condition so fully depicted in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah.

The fact that He is riding upon an ass is a sign of the lowly condition of this King. The third line is to be taken as a unit. He could not mount more than one of the animals. Neither did He mount first one, and the later the other.

Matthew 21:6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.

They did exactly as Jesus commanded. They did not yet understand at this time that they were fulfilling prophecy but they did precisely as Jesus said. In a remarkable way the God-man ruled and over-ruled this whole situation, making them completely willing.

Matthew 21:7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them.

"Cloaks" denotes their outer garments. No one told them to do this. It was all of God and prophecy. Somehow the disciples did this instinctively because of the will of Jesus, though unspoken. Without being told, they were anticipating Jesus' sitting on one of the animals, but they did not yet know which animal.

Mark and Luke do not mention the prophecy, not the two animals. John quotes the prophecy in abbreviated form, mentioning only one animal. Matthew quotes almost the entire prophecy, involving both animals. Therefore, Matthew alone treats both animals as to what happened. To say that Matthew pictures Jesus riding on two animals, either simultaneously or alternately, violates the translation of "namely" in the last line of Matthew 21:5 and violates the obvious antecedent of the second "them" which is "garments", not "the animals." Redaction critics claim that Matthew is here expanding Mark's account, but that Matthew misunderstood. Matthew, not the redaction critics, was a witness to what happened. And, if his account were different from Mark's, wouldn't he have made that clear?

Matthew 21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

Matthew is likely indicating that the majority of those present did this. The disciples laid their outer garments on the animals. Taking this as their cue, but also because of the will of the Lord, though unstated, the majority spread their outer garments on the road where the animals would walk. What a remarkable thing to do! Another act of homage, instigated by the will of the Lord to fulfill the prophecy.

Matthew 21:9 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!"

Only Luke does not distinguish two groups. The three others do. John is clear on these two crowds: one had gathered in Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus, now raised from the dead, and started with Jesus to Jerusalem; the other crowd, when it got word of Lazarus' raising from the dead and that Jesus was coming, came out from Jerusalem to meet Him.

From Luke 19:39 we know that there were some hostile Pharisees in the throng. Did this throng include pilgrims from Galilee and Perea? Hendriksen things so because of verse 11. That may be but the text does not say so.

At any rate, Matthew 21:9 clearly indicates two crowds, that with Him and the one coming out of Jerusalem.

"They began to cry and continued to do so." One cried this, another that. Compare the four Gospels on this point. It is a burst of acclamation, prayer and praise to Jesus, involving Messianic titles, the nature of His person and the nature of His work. Psalm 118:25-26 is quoted by them, a Messianic Psalm and also a Hallel Psalm, always used at the time of the Passover. The most often quoted Messianic Psalms in the New Testament are: 2, 22, 69, 89, 110 and 118.

"Hosanna" means "save" or "help." Under the Holy Spirit the people add "to the Son of David", a Messianic title. Together they mean: "Help the Son of David, may He succeed."

"Blessed" is consistently used only of human beings in the New Testament. "Praised be" is used only of God.

It is truly Advent. He comes to believers. "In the name of the Lord" has various translations: "In keeping with the revelation of the Lord"; "in obedience to the Lord's order"; "under the authority of the Lord." It is all of these. It tells us how and on what basis He comes: With the Lord's full backing and approval.

"May this hosanna resound in the highest heaven."

Hendriksen: It shows that the Messiah was regarded as a gift of God.
Lenski: In connection with God's abode.

We suggest that it means the same as in Luke 2:14: "Thank God because God and man are reconciled in this incarnate Christ."

By the way, under God's impulse the crowds add two phrases: "to the Son of David" and "in the highest."

Was all of this mere lip-service or was it meant genuinely? In view of Luke 19:39-40, we must insist that it was genuine, accepted by Jesus. But why did the people cry "Crucify Him" just a few days later? In the first place, human nature is very fickle and inconstant. There is a warning here: One day I may praise God to the highest heaven for what He has done. That is of God and is God-pleasing. A few days later I may be despondent and quite the opposite. That is not God's fault. It's my sinful nature.

Furthermore, it cannot be proved beyond a shadow of doubt that these crowds and those which condemned Him on Good Friday were identical although it's hard to believe that those who acclaimed Him on Sunday, if consistent, would have refrained from acknowledging Him on Friday, unless overcome by fear.

Matthew 21:10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?"

"Stirred" is "thrown in an uproar" or "in turmoil" or "went wild with excitement."

Expositor's Bible: Even Jerusalem, frozen with religious formalism and socially undemonstrative, was stirred by the popular enthusiasm as by a mighty wind or by an earthquake.
Fahling: 'Who is this?' is asked from the windows, the roofs, the streets, and the bazaars. Even Jerusalem, frozen with religious formalism, is moved.

Matthew 21:11 The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

Not "a" prophet, but "the" Prophet.

Hendriksen: He was, and is, indeed a prophet, for he revealed and reveals the will of God to man. Note how in the present connection he is represented both as the fulfillment of prophecy, 21:4,5,9, and as being himself a --- yes 'THE' prophet, 21:11.

Why do they say: "from Nazareth of Galilee?"

Lenski: This reply sounds as though it was made by festival pilgrims from Galilee. We may note that tone of pride with which they name his home town. Most of the ministry of Jesus had, indeed, been devoted to Galilee, and these pilgrims from Galilee sum it up in the title 'the prophet'. Perhaps they told of his wonderful teaching and of his astounding miracles.

We add the thought that the One Who had been rejected in Nazareth at the beginning of His ministry, Luke 4:16-29, is now acclaimed, under the influence of God, as THE prophet.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A, Festival Season Sundays, Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp.1-4. Used with permission.

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