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.”
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…
“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.