“The Best Thing That Can Happen to the Church Today”

When Jesus drove the money changers (Mt.21.12-17) and those who were selling animals for sacrifice from the Court of the Gentiles, He justified His action by a comparison of two Old Testament phrases. In the first, Isaiah referred to the temple as a “house of prayer” (Isaiah 56.7). In the second, Jeremiah says that the hypocritical worshipers of his day had caused the temple to become “a den of robbers” (7.11). Jeremiah was writing about hypocrisy. Jesus used the word robbers to describe the unjust extortion that was going on. But hypocrisy must also have been on His mind, as the story about the barren fig tree that follows shows.

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“What’s the Big Deal: The Cleansing of the Temple”

The twenty-first chapter of Matthew marks the beginning of the end of Jesus’ ministry, though we are only two-thirds of the way through the Gospel at this point. Matthew 21 marks this beginning because it records the events leading to Jesus’ final break with Judaism. We looked at one of these events in the last study: Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Monday (Mt.21.1-11). Jesus intended it as a presentation of Himself to Israel as her Messiah and King. It provoked the praise of the people as well as the hostility of the religious leaders. The second event is the one we come to now: the cleansing of the temple (vv.12-17).

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“Who Is This? – What is Your Answer?”

“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!’ And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee’” (Matthew 21).

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“Who Is This?”

Matthew twenty-one portrays the most significant coronation the world has yet seen. It was a true coronation of a true King. “Now 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.’” (Matthew 21.1-5)

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“A Planned Provocation”

Matthew (Mt.21.1) says that as Jesus and the disciples were approaching Bethphage, an outlying district of Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of the disciples ahead of them to procure a donkey and her colt. Matthew is the only writer who mentions two animals, and some scholars have suggested, in a manner insulting to Matthew, that he misunderstood the text he is about to cite from Zechariah and invented the extra animal to conform to it. Matthew was not stupid, of course. Jesus did not ride on two animals. He is merely recording a detail the other writers omit, namely, that there was a mother donkey and her foal, on which Jesus actually sat, though the clothes were spread on both. As far as the prophecy is concerned, it is an example of Hebrew parallelism in which two lines say the same thing, which Matthew certainly understood. We could translate, “on a donkey, that is, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

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