Jesus’ Triumphant Entry – Palm Sunday Exegetical Study Part 2

This is a 5 step exegetical study of Matthew 21:1-11. This passage of Scripture is usually labeled to be a narrative of “Jesus’ Triumphant Entry” and it is often times remembered the Sunday before Easter, often times called Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. Part 1 contains Steps 1 and 2 of this 5 step exegetical study: “Text and Translation Notes” and “Literary Analysis.”  Part 2 contains Steps 3, 4, and 5 of this 5 step exegetical study: “Historical-Cultural Context,” “The Broader Biblical and Historical Confession,” and “Personal and Pastoral Application.”

Palm Sunday 2

Part III – Historical-Cultural Context

What is the significance of riding a donkey?

Smith expresses that by choosing to enter the city on a donkey, Jesus was in no way acting unroyal, but instead acting as a king in time of peace, not needing to enter with the show of chariots, horses, and weapons of war.  (Smith, 244)

Is there any indication as to what the crowds expected of Jesus through their actions in this text?

The recounting of this entry into Jerusalem occurs on a church calendar day, often times called, Palm Sunday.  As noted in Part I, Matthew’s text does not say that the branches that were cut were palm branches.  Only John mentions palm branches, which were an “ancient symbol of victory and glory” (Smith, 244).”  Since palms symbolized victory, Leon Morris suggests that “it would seem that […] these people were trying to make a political messiah out of him” (Morris, 518).  By Jesus sending for the donkey, as we see from the Synoptists, we can then understand “by his symbolic action that he was not the potential overthrower of the Romans that the crowds would dearly have loved to see” (Morris, 519).  The impression then is that the crowds expected Jesus to rise to kingship through a revolt that they were willing to back him in through their shown enthusiasm.  This is not however why Jesus was entering into the city.  He came as the King of Peace, bringing peace between God and man through the shedding of his blood.

Unknowingly they were selecting their Passover lamb. 

According to Exodus 12, on the tenth day of Nisan the Jews were to select a year-old lamb that was without defect.  They were to keep this lamb in their household until the fourteenth day of Nisan when they were to kill it without breaking its bones and cover their doorframes with its blood in preparation for the Passover.  The day that Jesus entered Jerusalem was the tenth of Nisan.  The crowds that thought they were selecting their king (potentially some or maybe most even thought he was their Maccabean-style Roman Overthrowing Messiah) were unknowingly selecting their Passover lamb who was in their midst in Jerusalem and in the temple every day until his death, in which his bones were not broken and whose blood they asked to be on the them and their children, not the doors of their homes.  (Matthew 27:25)

Part IV – The Broader Biblical and Historical Confession

Though it is not in the Book of Concord, Luther’s Small Catechism has often times had an accompanying explanation section that wasn’t written by Luther.  In Concordia Publishing Houses 2017, “An Explanation of the Small Catechism,” the question, “What does it mean that our Lord Jesus is called the Christ,” has the following answered supplied:

In the Old Testament, God set certain people apart as prophets, priests, and kings by anointing them with oil.  The title Christ or Messiah means “Anointed One.”  In the New Testament, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our Prophet, Priest, and King.  (“Explanation of Small Catechism”, p. 192)

To answer the question, “What does it mean for us to speak of Jesus as our Priest,” the answer supplied is: “As our Priest, Jesus offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, and He intercedes with the Father on our behalf” (“Explanation of Small Catechism”, p. 193)

In light of this broader Biblical and historical confession, we realize that the crowds that claimed Jesus as their king with Messianic titles and proclaimed him as a prophet failed to recognize or understand the necessary work of his third office of priest. It isn’t until after Jesus is raised from the dead that the Old Testament Scriptures are opened up to the disciples to understand why the Messiah had to suffer and die as their high priest.

Part V – Personal and Pastoral Application

Like the crowds in this passage, Christians, in our sinfulness, far too often approach Jesus (or the Triune God) with expectations and understandings of who he is and what his work is to be that are contrary to how he is revealed to us in Scripture.

For instance, we might approach God as a Black Hawk Helicopter God. We expect him to swoop in and save us from all of our trials and tribulations. But is such deliverance from all earthly afflictions promised in Scripture? No, it’s not. God is not a Black Hawk Helicopter God.

Another example of a false approach is to treat God as a magic genie! We simply approach him again and again for things that we need and want, and that’s it. That’s the bulk of our interaction with him. What happens when such prayers are not answered in the affirmative? Will our faith be shaken? Will others who are not Christians, laugh and mock our God for not responding to our prayers as we expect him to?

Sometimes we treat God as a vending machine. We expect to get blessings from him, but they come at an expense! We have to pay in some fashion to receive God’s gifts. We treat all of our dealings with God in transactional terms: I prayed; I went to Church; I went on that mission trip; so I expect x, y, or z, from you in return, God!  For me now, the temptation is to approach God in this fashion, expecting him to come through with a call to a church that meets my desires (or more like my wife’s desires) and to leave here debt free with enough money stockpiled for a down payment on a home – and why wouldn’t God do these things?  I left home and a great job that I loved to be here…

Works cited:

“An Explanation of the Small Catechism” copyright © 2017 Concordia Publishing House.

Morris, Leon.  The Gospel According to Matthew.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.

Smith, Robert H.  Matthew.  Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1989.

Jesus’ Triumphant Entry – Palm Sunday Exegetical Study Part 1

This is a 5 step exegetical study of Matthew 21:1-11.  This passage of Scripture is usually labeled to be a narrative of “Jesus’ Triumphant Entry” and it is often times remembered the Sunday before Easter, often times called Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday.  Part 1 contains Steps 1 and 2 of this 5 step exegetical study: “Text and Translation Notes” and “Literary Analysis.” Part 2 contains Steps 3, 4, and 5 of this 5 step exegetical study: “Historical-Cultural Context,” “The Broader Biblical and Historical Confession,” and “Personal and Pastoral Application.”

Palm Sunday

Step I – Text and Translation Notes

Matthew 21:1-11 ESV – 1Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

21:2 The ESV translates λύσαντες as an imperative verb, yet the form is an aorist participle.  Λύσαντες is followed by the aorist imperative verb, ἀγάγετέ.  The ESV simply translates both verbs as commands, since the disciples obviously would have to untie the animals before they could be lead to Jesus.

21:3 The Greek reads that “their Lord [ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν – αὐτῶν is a 3rd person plural, masculine, genitive pronoun] –  has need.” Whose Lord is this?  The animals’ Lord is what the text reads, and this is theologically correct, since all of creation is the Lord’s and thus Jesus is the Lord of these two animals.  In this context however that reading isn’t a natural understanding of this genitive pronoun.  This is why Gibbs suggests αὐτῶν to be translated as an objective genitive to modify “need.” (Gibbs, p. 1032)

21:4 The ESV translates γέγονεν as an aorist verb, when it is a perfect tense verb.  A direct translation should thus be, “this has happened,” but since Matthew is referring to the three verse narrative that has just taken place, the ESV translation “this took place” reads well to our ears that are accustomed to the English language.  The nuance of the perfect verb relates that what “has happened still has an ongoing effect” – namely that the event of the disciples retrieving the animals has a testifying impact to the fulfillment of the words that were spoken by the prophet.

21:5 The ESV translation can easily give the impression that the donkey that Jesus is riding is the colt, as if “on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” is modifying donkey.  However, in the Greek text, there is the word “καὶ” between the two ἐπὶ prepositional phrases, which indicates that the words that were spoken by the prophet indicate a mounting/riding on both the mother and the colt.

21:7 This text says that Jesus sat on them [αὐτῶν].  This pronoun can refer to the disciples’ garments or to both animals.  Turner suggests that it is most likely that the second αὐτῶν refers to the garments that Jesus sat on while he rode on the colt.  (Turner, p. 496) This interpretation harmonizes Matthew’s narrative with the other Gospel narratives that only mention Jesus riding on a colt with no reference to the mother’s presence at all.  Much more could be said of Matthew’s mention of two animals as opposed to the other three Gospels that only mention one which could fit nicely into Parts II and III, but due to this assignment’s restriction on word count, this interpretation of αὐτῶν will have to be suffice enough to demonstrate the importance that there is a valid interpretation to avoid a contradiction in the Gospel narratives between Jesus riding on either one or two animals.

21:8 The ESV seems to take a great license here by saying, “most of the crowd,” because the Greek doesn’t say “most of the crowd, it simply says, “a very large crowd.”  In the Greek, it seems as if everyone in this multitude either laid their cloaks before Jesus or laid branches that they had cut on the path before Jesus.  The text doesn’t signify that the branches were palm branches.  The text simply reads: κλάδους ἀπὸ τῶν δένδρων [branches from the trees].

21:9 The ESV translates the attributive position present, active participles προάγοντες and ἀκολουθοῦντες as aorist verbs, which misses the ongoing action of the preceding and following throng of people. The ESV also merges ἔκραζον λέγοντες into “were shouting.”  Since ἔκραζον is an imperfect active verb the translation that Gibbs offers, “kept on crying out, saying…” better encapsulates the commotion of the scene.  The crowds are in a state of continual motion preceding and following him and their cries are carrying on and on.

21:10 The wild, on-going actions of the “very great crowd” of vs. 8-9 cause the totality [πᾶσα] of the city to be moved into a state of commotion being stirred up or shaken.

21:11 In vs. 9, the crowds “kept on crying,” and now they “kept on saying” that Jesus is the prophet from Nazareth.   The ESV again translates an imperfect verb form (here it is ἔλεγον) as an aorist, which diminishes the narrative’s image of their on-going exuberance and certainty in their proclamation of Jesus, not just being the promised king, the Son of David, but also a prophet – from Nazareth of all places!

Part II – Literary Analysis

Gibbs opens up his commentary on this unit of text by describing it as “a fairly obvious whole” (Gibbs, 1035).  I can’t deny this, which is why I struggle to break this unit into sections.  I see no obvious breaks that demand to be labeled a new section with a new thought or idea being introduced.  I see no central point or turning point in the text.  Gibbs chooses to break this unit into two sections: vs. 1-7 and vs. 8-11. (Gibbs, p. 1036) I agree with his justification for this split, namely that in vs. 1-7, Jesus is in control of the action; he’s orchestrating his entrance into Jerusalem, and then in vs. 8-11 the reactions of the crowds and the people of the city take over the action of the narrative; Jesus is depicted as just being along for the ride (no pun intended).  In this section unit, the disciples are not even mentioned.

I however prefer to break the unit into three sections, following Turner’s division: preparations for Jesus’ entrance (vs. 1-5), Jesus’ entrance (vs. 6-9), and the results (vs. 10-11).  (Turner, p. 493).  I would change the labels however to Jesus’ orchestrated preparation (vs. 1-5), the approach to Jerusalem (vs. 6-9), and the dichotomy of responses from mutually in-error parties (vs. 10-11).  The following will explain my decision to break this unit into three sections.

Vs. 1-5 narrate Jesus’ very deliberate preparations and instructions to two disciples for how he is to enter Jerusalem.  The intentions of these instructions, Matthew explains, were to fulfill the words of the prophet in Zechariah 9:9.  This is a good breaking point, because in a study it would necessitate a look at the prophesy in Zechariah 9:9 and its context.  The most important discovery to this unit’s immediate context is that Matthew doesn’t cite the verse as directed by Zechariah to be an invitation for Jerusalem to rejoice and shout; instead he opts to Isiah 62:11 as the introduction to the prophesy fulfillment at hand, which is “Say to the daughter, Zion” (21:5).  This foreshadows the cluelessness of the personified city of Jerusalem in the third section who doesn’t understand that now is the time for the shouting and rejoicing encouraged by Zechariah.

A question arises in this section concerning how the disciples were expected to be able to just mosey into Bethpage and take the first animals they saw with no potential consequences for donkey-thieving.  Also, how did Jesus know the animals would be there for the taking.  One answer comes from John’s Gospel which records that Jesus had made several travels to Jerusalem before and “had an important ministry there, and it would seem that it was on such occasions that he made the acquaintance of people like the owners of the animals he was now borrowing” (Morris, 520).  Another answer lies within this section itself.  Jesus’ use of κύριος in the statement, “The Lord has need of them,” carries with it the force of a “magisterial sentence” that provides all the disciples will need to offer to resolve any objections that might arise from their taking of the animals.  (Smith, 243) Couple the crowd’s response with this last answer and it seems suffice to say that the owners might have recognized Jesus to be their king as the crowds did and would gladly offer their animals to meet their king’s need.

The next section, Vs. 6-9, does not indicate if the disciples or the crowd knew if Zechariah’s prophesy was being fulfilled at the time, but what we see is that the disciples follow Jesus’ instruction without question and the crowd responded to Jesus’ entrance on the colt just as Zechariah had prophesied.  Their response is shocking to the reader, because the goal in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has already been stated by Jesus himself – “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21) – and this exuberant response that attributed Messianic titles to Jesus (“Son of David” and “one who comes” (Turner, p. 496)) doesn’t indicate an impending death at the hands of the Jewish leaders.

Vs. 10-11 close the unit and indicate that as he entered the city, the people in Jerusalem did not even know who he was.  The crowds who have already declared him their king with messianic titles respond by continually saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”  Gibbs indicates that their answer that he is a prophet already indicates that they didn’t know he was the Messiah, because instead of answering that he is the prophet Jesus, they would have answered he is the Messiah Jesus.  (Gibbs, p. 1041) I tend to think that the crowds were declaring him to be their Messiah through their use of Messianic titles for him.  In Part III, the historical and cultural background point to their expectations of what he should do in the city as the Messiah, and in Part IV, their recognition of him being both king and prophet illustrates their misunderstanding of what he came to do and the three-fold office of the Messiah.

Go to Part 2 that contains Steps 3, 4, and 5 of this exegetical study.

Works Cited:

Gibbs, Jeffrey A. Matthew 21:1-28:20. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2018.

Morris, Leon.  The Gospel According to Matthew.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.

Turner, David L.  Matthew.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.