Theme: Jesus as King
This week’s lesson raises and answers the question, “Is Jesus really God and King?”
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.”
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 band 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 the city and saw what was happening left to join the group that was arriving (John 12:13). Soon 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!”
These were spontaneous praise chants, but they were not merely arbitrary words. Two of these sentences come from Psalm 118, and the significance of this is that Psalm 118 is the last psalm of the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118). Hallel means “praise,” and these were the 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 the Passover two of these psalms were sung before the meal and four afterward. They were probably the psalms sung by Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). It was during the Passover week that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. In fact, Jesus was probably entering at the very time the thousands of Passover lambs were being brought into the city, later to be killed and eaten by the Jewish families for that Passover observance.
It is natural that lines from Psalm 118 would be in the people’s minds on this occasion. The first was verse 25: “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” The second was verse 26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
In this 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 “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” in the first half of the verse) are literally “Save us now” which is the Hebrew word “Hosanna.” It is what the people were shouting when they exclaimed: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and “Hosanna in the highest!”
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 some few, like 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 do 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?” (Matthew 2:2-3). Here they ask, “Who is this?” and the crowds respond, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee” (vv. 10-11).
That does not seem to be a very profound answer, but it was 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 (John 12:13). So 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 that one. So 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 Roman forces. The disciples were thinking along these lines themselves even after the Lord’s resurrection (Acts 1:6).
Second, the people were shallow even in their confession of Jesus as the King and Messiah of Israel. We cannot help but remembering that this was 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 echoed the evil of their leaders, beseeching Pilate, the Roman governor, to “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Matt. 27:22-23).
Explain the significance of the words shouted as Jesus entered the city.
Why do we give little credence to the crowds’ cheers for Jesus?
Pray through Psalm 118.