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)
Jesus had sent two disciples for the donkeys. When they arrived, the disciples spread their clothes on both. Jesus sat on the colt, which was probably led by the mother donkey since it was a young animal that had not been ridden before (Mark 11.2; Luke 19.30). The entire entourage then made its way down the steep descent of the Mount of Olives in full sight of the city of Jerusalem, attracting people as they went. As the crowd came near, others who were in Jerusalem saw what was happening and went out of the city to join the group that was arriving (Mt.21.9). The people began to cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
Luke adds the cry “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19.38), and John adds, “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12.13).
These were spontaneous praise chants, but they were not arbitrary words. Two of these sentences come from Psalm 118. The first is verse 25: “O Lord, save us.” The second is verse 26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” In the psalm the words “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” are found exactly as we have them in our English versions. Verse 25 is quoted differently, but we can see the connection if we know that the words “save us” (from “O Lord, save us” in the first half of the verse) are literally “Save us now” which is the Hebrew word Hosanna. This is what the people were shouting when they exclaimed, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and “Hosanna in the highest!”
The significance of this is that Psalm 118 is the last psalm of the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118). Hallel means “praise,” and the Egyptian Hallel was the collection of praise psalms sung at the great Jewish feasts: the feast of dedication, the feasts of the new moons, and by families at the yearly observance of the Passover. At Passover two of the psalms were sung before the meal and four afterward. In fact, they were probably the psalms sung by Jesus and his disciples in the upper room just before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion (Mt.26.30; Mk.14.26).
Jesus entered Jerusalem during Passover week, probably at the very time the thousands of Passover lambs were being brought into the city, later to be killed and eaten as part of the Passover observance. It is natural, then, that lines from Psalm 118 were on the people’s minds and tongues on this occasion.
Did the people understand that Jesus was the Son of God and that He was coming to save His people from their sins? Of course not, though a few, such as Mary of Bethany, seem to have understood that He was about to die (John 12.7). But whether the masses understood it or not, these verses describe what Jesus was doing and was about to do. He had indeed come “in the name of the Lord” to do the will of His Father in heaven, and what He had been sent to do was save His people from their sins.
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 answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (vv.10–11).
That does not seem to be a very profound answer, but it is probably more significant than it appears. We should remember that the crowd was calling the man who was entering Jerusalem on a donkey the Messiah, for that is what the shouts of praise meant. John tells us that they called Him “the King of Israel” explicitly (Jn.12.13). Therefore, when the people in the city asked, “Who is this?” they meant, “Who is this person you are calling the Messiah?” The answer identified Jesus as the Messiah. The words recorded in Matthew as the crowd’s answer seem to mean, “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee, is the messianic Son of David, the King of Israel.”
Significant? Yes, but not good enough for two reasons.
First, they were still thinking of a powerful political ruler, the kind who could marshal an army and drive out the occupying Romans. The disciples were thinking along these lines themselves even after the Lord’s resurrection (Ac.1.6).
Second, the people were shallow even in their confession of Jesus as the King and Messiah of Israel. We cannot help but remember that the triumphal entry took place on Sunday, and by the following Thursday (my dating) or Friday (the traditional day for Jesus’ execution) they would be singing an entirely different tune as they beseeched Pilate, the Roman governor, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Mt.27.22–23).
Pastor Steve can be reached at PastorSteve@MaranathaBibleChurch.org