“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.’ ”
“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!” 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” (Mt.21.1-11).
The most important life ever lived was that of Jesus Christ, and the most important part of that life was the momentous week that ended it. The week began with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Monday (see Eckhard Schnabel’s “Last Days”). It included a second cleansing of the temple, the final teaching, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the arrest, trial, and crucifixion. It ended with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. Eight momentous days in all.
This final week is so important that the Gospels give a disproportionate amount of space to it. Jesus lived thirty-three years. His active ministry occupied three years. But large portions of the Gospels are given over to the events of just the last eight days. Matthew devotes one-fourth of his Gospel to it (chs.21-28). Mark uses one-third of his Gospel (chs.11-16). Luke gives a fifth of his chapters to the events of this last week (chs.19.28-23). Most remarkable of all, John gives half of his Gospel (chs.12-21). Taken together, there are eighty-nine chapters in the Gospels, but twenty-nine and a half of these (exactly one-third) recount what happened between the triumphal entry and Jesus’ resurrection. Such is the case because these are the climactic events not only of Jesus’ life but of all history. They were planned from before the foundation of the world, and our salvation from sin and wrath depends on them.
It is not just the Gospels that emphasize these events either. We can think of the one verse summary of Christianity that Paul gives at the end of Romans 4: “He was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (v.25). Better yet is the outline Paul provides near the start of First Corinthians 15: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five-hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (vv.3-8).
This is the outline followed by the early preachers, whose sermons are preserved in the Book of Acts: “You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3.15).
From Matthew’s perspective, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem also marked the Lord’s final break with Judaism. We can remember from previous articles that the presentation of Jesus as Israel’s king is a major theme of the Gospel. Matthew breaks down naturally into ten parts. Now, in Matthew 21 we come to the eigth part. Part one: “The Coming of the King” (chs.1-4); Part two: “The Sermon on the Mount” (chs.5-7); Part three: “The Power of the Kingdom” (chs.8-10); Part four: “Is Jesus Really God’s King?” (chs.11-12); Part five: “The Parables of the Kingdom” (ch.13); Part six: “The Withdrawal of the King” (chs.14-17); Part seven: “The Citizens of the Kingdom” (chs.18-20); and now, Part eight: “The King’s Final Break with Judaism” (chs.21-23).
There will be two more significant divisions after this, Part nine: “The Sermon on the Mount of Olives” (chs.24-25) and, finally, Part ten: “Death and Resurrection” (chs.26-28). The death and resurrection of Jesus have already been anticipated by three specific predictions in Matthew: Mt.16.21; Mt.17.22-23; Mt.20.17-19.
This climactic week begins, then, with what we call the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Monday. Each of the Gospels records this event, and the first significant detail they record is that Jesus arranged what was to happen. In other words, this was not merely a case of some spontaneous outburst of excitement on the part of the people, though there was obviously some spontaneity about it. Rather, it was something about which the Lord Himself carefully planned to make a statement.
Matthew ends his account of the triumphal entry by telling us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, “the whole city was stirred,” as it had been thirty-three years earlier when the Magi came to inquire, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Mt.2.2-3). Here they ask, “Who is this?” The crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
Pastor Steve can be reached at PastorSteve@MaranathaBibleChurch.org