The Triumphal Entry – Matthew 21:1–22
Read the Passage: Matthew 21:1-22
Arrival of Jesus (21:1–11)
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one a few narratives that is recorded in all four Gospels. At Matt. 20:29 Jesus left Jericho and began making His way toward Jerusalem. The distance from Jericho to Jerusalem was ~20 miles and the elevation rose ~4,000 feet. Christ stopped in the village of Bethphage, which is only mentioned here in Scripture. It was the time of the Passover, thus Jerusalem would have been full of people. Moreover, John reports that the crowd was stirred up because Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the dead (cf. John 11:1–44) and news of this event had spread among the crowd (cf. John 12:18–19). At Matt. 21:2 Jesus instructs his disciples to get a donkey colt, likely from the village of Bethany. Mark and Luke record the disciples’ interaction with the owner, just as Jesus had predicted, who allowed for the colt to be borrowed.
Matthew notes that Jesus’ riding on a donkey fulfilled Zech. 9:9 (see Zech. 9:9–17). Curiously, Luke and Mark omit the reference to Zech. 9:9. As with other places in his Gospel, Matthew is pointing out that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew records that on his ride into Jerusalem the populace lined the road with tree branches and even their own clothing. Mark gives the same details at Mark 11:8, while Luke omits the reference to branches and John omits the reference to garments. A commonality between all four of the Gospels is the citation of Ps. 118:26, a prophecy of the advent of the Messiah. However, not everyone recognized Christ as Messiah, for Matthew notes that some people questioned His identity (cf. Matt. 21:10). Moreover, the Pharisees rebuked Jesus for accepting praise from the crowds (cf. Luke 19:39–40).
Cleansing of the Temple (21:12–17)
The uninformed populace celebrated Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem, and Christ accepted their praise (cf. Luke 19:40). However, as the parallel accounts of the triumphal entry make clear, this was hardly a joyous occasion for Christ. In his Gospel Luke reports that Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he approach the city (cf. Luke 19:41–44). Matthew would record Christ again lamenting over the city later in the same week (cf. Matt. 23:37–39). Furthermore, John writes that upon entering Jerusalem Jesus told his disciples, “My soul is troubled” (John 12:27). So, while Christ’s arrival into Jerusalem was triumphal in the sense of being the apex of His earthly ministry, Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem was marked by personal sadness over the sin of mankind and, perhaps, anxiety about the anticipated physical and spiritual pain of the cross (cf. Matt. 20:17–20).
Mark informs us that the cleansing of the Temple occurred on the following day (Mark 11:12). Jesus surely knew that overturning the tables of the money-changers would provoke the religious leaders, yet He did so anyway. Clearly, Jesus was not being controlled by the crowds or by the rulers; rather, He was willingly laying down His life for future believers (cf. John 10:18). Note that at the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus had driven the sellers from the Temple, using a whip of cords (cf. John 2:14–16). The merchants in the Temple area were there to sell animals for sacrifices, which included doves, sheep, and oxen. The money-changers were present, as Jewish males were required to pay a Temple tax (cf. Exod. 30:13–14) that needed to be paid in Jewish coinage. These merchants and money lenders were charging exorbitant rates for their services.
Cursing of the Fig Tree (21:18–22)
Matt. 21:18–22 contains an account of an interesting miracle of Jesus. In this narrative, which is also recorded in Mark 11:12–14, 20–24, Jesus sees a fig tree, which is without fruit. He then curses the fig tree. The result of this curse is that on the next day (cf. Mark 11:20) the disciples noticed that the tree had died. By way of interpretation, we should note that Jesus’ cursing of the tree was not done out of frustration; rather, it was a divine object lesson. In the Old Testament, the fig tree was symbolic for Israel (cf. Hos. 9:10; Joel 1:7). In cursing the fig tree, Jesus was teaching that Israel would reject Him as the Messiah. Christ’s response to the disciples’ astonishment over the withering of the tree is to exhort His followers to faith. With such faith, teaches Jesus, the disciples will be able to move mountains. Of course, spiritual salvation is a greater act that moving physical mountains.
- Why did the crowds receive Jesus with joy upon His entry into Jerusalem, but then ask for His crucifixion within a matter of days (cf. John 2:24)?
- Do you think the disciples understood the events that were unfolding before them? Did they understand they were fulfilling prophecy (cf. John 12:16)?
- How do we explain subtle difference in the details of Jesus’ triumphal entry as recorded in the Gospels (cf. Mark 11:1–10; Luke 19:29–38; John 12:12–15)?
- Why, as Luke notes (cf. Luke 19:41–44), did Jesus weep as He approached Jerusalem? Why did Christ earlier weep at Lazarus’ tomb (cf. John 11:35)?
- How can we make sure that our view of money and our financial dealings are biblical? What are some errors related to finances that believers are prone to?